Afghanistan opposition claims hundreds of Taliban defecting in fierce fighting in north |

Afghanistan opposition claims hundreds of Taliban defecting in fierce fighting in north


DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) – Afghanistan’s opposition claimed Sunday that hundreds of Taliban soldiers had defected during three days of fierce fighting in the country’s northern mountains that have seen the opposition score major territorial gains.

Fighting is raging on several fronts and ”20 percent of the Afghan territory is now controlled by the Northern Alliance,” an opposition spokesman, who goes by the single name Abdullah, told a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

The opposition alliance was estimated to have controlled about five percent of Afghanistan before the recent offensive and many are skeptical of their claim to now control 20 percent of the country.

The rebel alliance claimed it had captured the Taliban-controlled Qadis district in the northeast. Alliance spokesman Mohammed Habil, reached by telephone, said 30 Taliban soldiers and their commander were captured, and another 120 Taliban troops had defected to the rebels.

In Tajikistan, Abdullah said that more than 1,000 Taliban soldiers had defected to the opposition alliance over the past three days. The claims could not be independently confirmed.

He said the alliance had been in a defensive mode before the death earlier this month of its commander, Ahmed Shah Massood, who was killed by a suicide bomber, but now ”the Northern Alliance proceeds to the offensive again.”

The opposition also claimed that a Taliban commander in eastern Laghman province, Mohammed Suleman, had joined the opposition alliance together with 70 of his fighters.

A Taliban spokesman, reached by telephone, did not deny Suleman’s defection, but said he had been wanted by Taliban military courts for unspecified offenses, and that he had gone over to the rebel side to escape prosecution.

Taliban radio, in turn, said at least 12 rebel soldiers died and several were wounded in an explosion at a military base in Baghram, 36 miles north of Kabul. It said Baba Jan, a top commander in the Communist era, could be among the casualties.

An opposition official, contacted by telephone from Kabul, said the blast was caused by defective munitions and five people were killed. He said Baba Jan was not in the camp at the time.

Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance said Sunday that any military operations against Afghanistan for harboring Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, should be orchestrated by the United Nations.

”We agree to anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan, but we are concerned about the possible large numbers of victims among civilians,” Abdullah said in Tajikistan. ”That is why I suggested that this operation should be under the aegis of the United Nations.”

Abdullah said the Northern Alliance would continue to fight the Taliban, with or without foreign assistance, but that its representatives were in daily contact with the United States, Russia and the Central Asia republics bordering Afghanistan.

In Dushanbe, Francesc Vendrell, head of the U.N. special mission for Afghanistan, told the news conference that he had informed the Northern Alliance about the latest negotiations with Mohammad Zahir Shah, the former king of Afghanistan.

Zahir said on Sunday in Rome that he would back a U.S.-led operation to oust the hard-line Taliban.

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