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Saturday, 10 November, 2001, 20:15 GMT
Taleban 'on the run' in north
Northern Alliance fighters fire on Taleban position in northern Afghanistan
Turning up the heat: opposition forces fire on Taleban
Afghan opposition forces, bolstered by the capture of a key city, say the Taleban are now retreating across a broad area of northern Afghanistan.

After driving the Taleban out of Mazar-e-Sharif with US air support on Friday, the Northern Alliance says its forces have now swept through several more provinces. There is no independent confirmation.

The Alliance said it would allow the United Nations and aid agencies to resume humanitarian operations in territory they control.

The move is likely to be welcomed by Washington, which has said it wants to step up humanitarian aid to famine-hit areas during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in less then a week.

This is what Taleban needed in order to come to terms with the reality of the situation... Taleban made a strategic mistake by resisting in northern Afghanistan

Dr Abdullah, Northern Alliance Foreign Minister
The loss of Mazar-e-Sharif was the first major setback for the Taleban, weakened by intense American bombing, since the US-led campaign began five weeks ago.

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge, reporting from northern Afghanistan, says the Taleban, who only a day ago controlled up to 90% of the country, now appear to be abandoning posts as the opposition advance.

"Today we have captured Samangan, Sara-i-Pol, Faryab and Jowzjan," Northern Alliance commander, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, told the Reuters news agency.

'Fierce' resistance

Speaking by satellite phone, he said the Taleban had put up fierce resistance in some places. Earlier he said Alliance fighters had also seized control of Balkh province.

Two soldiers of the opposition Northern Alliance
Standing guard: a Northern Alliance soldier
Opposition commanders say their forces have also attacked the Taleban on the front line to the north of the capital, Kabul, where American B52 planes have been bombing Taleban trenches.

The Northern Alliance say they are also advancing in the other direction, near the border with Tajikistan.

Importance of Mazar-e-Sharif
Airport could be used as US base
Good road link to Uzbekistan
Military garrisons contain arms and ammunition
Centre of wheat production
Controls natural gas that supplies energy to northern Afghanistan

They claim to have taken the northern town of Hairatan, near the Uzbek border, and the town of Sheberghan, former base of Northern Alliance commander, General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Towards Kabul?

So far, there has been no independent confirmation of these claims.

But the Taleban have conceded the loss of Mazar-e-Sharif, saying their forces have pulled back to Tangi Tashgurghan, 60 kilometres (40 miles) to the south.

The BBC's John Simpson, reporting from opposition-held territory in northern Afghanistan, said Northern Alliance commanders appeared confident that the next push would be towards Kabul.

Northern Alliance commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum
General Dostum's forces captured Mazar-e-Sharif
They said their troops were massing on the front about 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of the capital to intensify their offensive there.

The Northern Alliance has promised not to march into the capital, saying it would halt its advance just outside the city to limit bloodshed.

There may still be strong support for the Taleban, who are mainly ethnic Pashtun, among Kabul's mainly Pashtun residents.

Click here for map of the battlegrounds

Mazar 'calm'

In Mazar-e-Sharif itself, the Northern Alliance says remnants of the Taleban remain holed up while its forces patrol the city.

The Alliance says 90 Taleban fighters were killed and several hundred captured as the city was taken.

Residents say Mazar-e-Sharif is calm, with some shops open and so far no sign of the bloodshed which marked previous takeovers of the city.

Some women are reported to have taken advantage of the lifting of restrictions imposed by the Taleban to discard their veils, while men wanting to shave their beards have formed queues at barber shops.

General Dostum said women in Mazar-e-Sharif would now be allowed to go out to work or study.

Click here to return

The BBC's Andrew Harding in northern Afghanistan
"The opposition says its military campaign is becoming unstoppable"
The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"They feel they have the Taleban on the run"
Northern Alliance spokesman Sibghtullah Zaki
"The Taleban are not in a position to launch a counter-attack"
See also:

24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistani militants' bodies returned
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: General Rashid Dostum
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Mazar-e-Sharif's bloody history
09 Nov 01 | Middle East
Saudi anger at US silence
09 Nov 01 | Middle East
Abdullah says bombing must go on
07 Nov 01 | South Asia
Disaster looms at refugee camps
10 Nov 01 | South Asia
Upping the stakes in Afghanistan
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