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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 01:39 GMT 02:39 UK
Afghan rebels change tack
Northern Alliance leader addressing his men
Northern Alliance troops are just 40km from the capital
The opposition Northern Alliance in Afghanistan has signalled a sharp change in policy over its offensive against the Taleban-controlled capital, Kabul.

Its spokesman, Abdullah Abdullah, told the BBC that before making any move on Kabul, the alliance would prefer to have a political agreement on a post-Taleban administration in place.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah
Abdullah: Possible role for UN
Asked if the alliance was now ruling out a large ground offensive, Dr Abdullah said: "One cannot rule out that idea. But it doesn't mean moving large numbers of military forces and military hardware into Kabul.

"Perhaps that could mean moving to the outskirts of Kabul and waiting there and see a security force established... or a role by the United Nations."

BBC correspondents say the comments reflect a greater realism within the alliance about its future role.

The alliance presently controls only about 10% of Afghan territory, while western governments want any future administration to have wide tribal and regional backing.

The alliance is largely supported by Afghanistan's ethnic minorities, while the Taleban is largely made up of the country's largest group, the Pashtuns.

Northern Alliance fighter
The alliance is reported to have received fresh weapons
Our correspondents say that Pakistan appears to have persuaded the US that the Northern Alliance should not be allowed to govern the country alone.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar on Sunday cautioned the US against bombing front-line Taleban forces, saying a Northern Alliance takeover of Kabul would be destabilising.

"At this time, for the minority ethnic group in the north-east to march down to the south, capture Kabul, will destabilise an already volatile situation," he said.

The subject is likely to be raised again on Monday during US Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Pakistan for talks.

Balance of power

The Northern Alliance's morale has been lifted by the US-led air strikes, which could tip the balance of power away from the Taleban's more numerous troops.

The alliance is thought to have between 12,000 and 15,000 men under its control, while the Taleban can reportedly field between 40,000 and 60,000 soldiers.

The alliance is also reported to have received fresh ammunition and weapons, ready for a push on Kabul.

But Kate Clark, the BBC's Afghanistan correspondent, says Washington appears to be hesitating about attacking Taleban front-line positions and encouraging the alliance to move forward.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"They are in for a long haul"
See also:

14 Oct 01 | South Asia
Anti-US protests erupt in Pakistan
14 Oct 01 | South Asia
Millions at risk in Afghan crisis
12 Oct 01 | South Asia
What next for Afghanistan?
11 Oct 01 | South Asia
Mapping Afghanistan's political future
10 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's fault lines
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
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