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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 20:28 GMT
US bombing 'kills' Taleban chief
Northern Alliance fighters
There has been fierce fighting in the area for days
Opposition forces in Afghanistan say a key Taleban commander has been killed in American bombing raids near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Northern Alliance commanders are jubilant about what they say is the death of the commander, Gulgarai, and about 48 Pakistani militants, reports BBC Afghanistan correspondent Kate Clark.

Earlier, Northern Alliance forces said they were advancing towards Mazar-e-Sharif after heavy US bombing helped weaken Taleban defences.

They said their troops had entered the district of Sholgera, about 60 km (36 miles) south-west of the city.

The Taleban have yet to comment on the commander's reported death.

Pashtun commander

Gulgarai was one of the local Pashtun commanders who defected to the Taleban in 1997, allowing them briefly to capture Mazar.



LATEST STRIKES:
  • Northern Alliance says it has gained ground south of Mazar-e-Sharif
  • Heavy bombing of Taleban front lines along Tajikistan border and north of Kabul
  • US now carrying out 120 attack sorties daily

  • He had a bad reputation for human rights abuses and would probably have fought to the last, if necessary, because defection to the Alliance was not an option, says Kate Clark.

    Reports of Gulgarai's death came after the Alliance said on Tuesday it had won control of three other districts, south of Sholgera, as a week of see-saw battles continued.

    But the Taleban have disputed this, and an official told the French news agency AFP that their forces were preparing to counter-attack.

    "God willing we will be able to recapture all lost territories in a very short time," he said.

    Caution

    The US, which has stepped up its bombing of Taleban front lines to encourage a Northern Alliance offensive, was cautious about the reports.

    Northern Alliance troops
    Alliance leaders say the US can still do more

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "There are so many reports about this village or that village. I like to let the dust settle."

    Mazar-e-Sharif lies on important supply routes to neighbouring Uzbekistan. If the Northern Alliance won control of the area it could become a bridge-head for US ground forces.

    US bombing

    American bombers returned to attack Taleban positions near Afghanistan's north-eastern border with Tajikistan on Wednesday - the seventh time in 11 days.

    There were also reports of strikes north of the capital Kabul.

    The Taleban are reported to be carrying out reprisals against any rebels they capture.

    Northern Alliance troops
    There are doubts about the Northern Alliance's fighting capabilities
    The nephew of Abdul Haq - the mujahedin leader captured and executed by the Taleban last week - has himself been executed, a relative told Reuters news agency.

    Abdul Haq and the nephew, Izzatullah, slipped into Afghanistan in October to muster support among ethnic Pashtuns for an uprising against the Taleban.

    Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports about the whereabouts of another rebel leader, Hamid Karzai.

    On Tuesday, Mr Rumsfeld said that at his request Mr Karzai had been extracted from Afghanistan with a small number of his fighters.

    But Mr Karzai's brother, Ahmed Karzai, speaking from Pakistan, has told the BBC that Mr Karzai is still in Afghanistan.

    Launch new window : Detailed map
    Click here for a detailed map of the strikes so far

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Andrew Harding
    "We are getting conflicting signals"
    See also:

    06 Nov 01 | UK Politics
    Bin Laden's death 'will not end attacks'
    06 Nov 01 | Europe
    Germany agrees Afghanistan force
    02 Nov 01 | South Asia
    Taleban hunt key rebel leader
    05 Nov 01 | Americas
    US special forces 'botched mission'
    05 Nov 01 | Media reports
    Taleban jails 'full of political prisoners'
    07 Nov 01 | South Asia
    Disaster looms at refugee camps
    07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
    Blair prepares for Bush talks
    07 Nov 01 | Americas
    US targets Bin Laden money networks
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