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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 04:30 GMT 05:30 UK
Opposition buoyed by US strikes
Northern Alliance fighters just north of Kabul
The Northern Alliance feels it has a unique chance
Afghanistan's anti-Taleban Northern Alliance are taking advantage of the regime's vulnerable position in the wake of US-led military strikes to launch their own attacks.

There were reports of heavy artillery and rocket exchanges during the night on the frontline just north of the capital Kabul, which was a key target of the military strikes which began on Sunday evening.

The Taleban will not be able to resist opposition on the frontlines for more than two days

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Northern Alliance
One opposition member told the Iranian state news agency Irna that Northern Alliance forces were mustering all their strength for a major assault early on Monday morning, when the country will start examining the level of devastation inflicted by the strikes.

Many international observers, as well as the alliance itself, are hoping that the domestic opposition forces will be able to make full use of the opportunity provided by the US attacks to topple the militant Taleban regime.

"Our interest is to strengthen those forces that are opposed to the Taleban leadership and to strengthen all those forces so that they will have better opportunities to prevail," said US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The US has not laid out publicly the exact nature of its relationship with the Northern Alliance, although it has recently been revealed that both Russia and Iran are supplying their forces with weapons.

Eyeing up Kabul

The alliance's foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah confidently declared that the Taleban might only survive a few more days, faced with a combination of strikes by international and domestic forces.

"We have reinforced our frontlines," said Dr Abdullah. "The Taleban will not be able to resist opposition on the frontlines for more than two days."

He also claimed to be in "constant contact" with the US and said that action "from now on" would be co-ordinated with Washington. Earlier in the week, Dr Abdullah said he had met with US officials to discuss the prospect of military action.

Correspondents say that the alliance will be looking to take control of the capital Kabul, from which its members were forcibly ejected five years ago after the arrival of the Taleban.

Former Afghan king Mohammad Zahir Shah
The 86-year-old ex-king could be the figurehead of a new administration

Although buoyed by the US strikes and kept in arms by Russia and Iran, the Northern Alliance is considerably weaker than the Taleban, and controls no more than 10% of the country.

Just prior to the 11 September attacks, it also lost its leader and figurehead - Ahmad Shah Massoud - who was killed after being lured into a trap by an enemy.

The Taleban regime is estimated to have some 40,000 troops at its disposal, while the Northern Alliance is thought to count between 12,000 and 15,000.

But it is hoping for mass defections from enemy lines as the Taleban weakens. Some Northern Alliance sources believe that as many as 10,000 Taleban fighters are now ready to switch their allegiances.

History lessons

The alliance has already formulated plans for a post-Taleban administration with the country's former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, an 86-year-old who has been living in exile in Rome.

But many of those now involved in the alliance disappointed ordinary Afghans when they were in power, following the Soviet withdrawal, by their failure to stop in-fighting and allegations of corruption and cronyism.

Correspondents point out further that they were not noted for their respect for human rights.

They do however pursue a milder version of Islam which includes allowing women to be educated and to work.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"The Northern Alliance can't believe their luck"
See also:

02 Oct 01 | Middle East
Iran clinches arms deal with Russia
02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Deal to oust Taleban sealed
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Musharraf admits failure over Taleban
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's king in exile
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden 'controls Taleban'
26 Sep 01 | South Asia
Fighting rages in north Afghanistan
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan ex-king offers his services
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Afghanistan's future
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