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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Fighting rages in north Afghanistan
Northern Alliance tank at Baghram
Tanks and heavy weaponry are being used
Taleban forces and the opposition Northern Alliance are reported to be engaged in further heavy fighting in northern Afghanistan.

Both sides have reported clashes in the northern province of Balkh, near the strategically-important city of Mazar-i-Sharif, which is currently under Taleban control.

General Dostum
General Dostum: Fierce fighting is taking place
The Northern Alliance, which controls about 10% of Afghanistan, also says there has been fighting in the northern province of Takhar.

Fighting has intensified across northern Afghanistan in the past week, following the threat of a military strike on the Taleban.

A leading opposition commander, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, told the Reuters news agency that fierce fighting was taking place around the Zari district, some 100km (60 miles) south of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Click here for map of Afghanistan

A spokesman for the Northern Alliance is reported as saying that both sides are using artillery, rocket launchers and tanks.

Pakistan warning

The Northern Alliance - traditionally backed by Russia, Iran and India - is encouraged by the massive build-up of US forces in the region.

The political head of the opposition, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, said the tragic events of 11 September in the United States offered the Northern Alliance a great opportunity.

[US retaliation is] not designed to replace one regime with another

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
In recent days, reports suggest the Northern Alliance could be a key to toppling the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.

But on Tuesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said any US military retaliation for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was "not designed to replace one regime with another".

And Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said any attempt to extend military assistance to the Northern Alliance would lead to instability in Afghanistan, and warned against "foisting" any government on Kabul.

Russia has offered the opposition arms and other support - a move welcomed by the Northern Alliance.

The BBC's correspondent in northern Afghanistan says the opposition's heavy weaponry is known to be no match for the tanks and air power of the Taleban.


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The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Northern Afghanistan
"Both sides claim they're taking position from their enemy"
Daoud Qarizadeh, Afghan journalist
"It seems that the Northern Alliance is mobilizing its forces"
See also:

25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: General Rashid Dostum
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan ex-king offers his services
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