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Steve Harrigan: Heavy fighting in northern Afghanistan

Steve Harrigan
Steve Harrigan  

NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- Opposition forces in northern Afghanistan are stepping up their military campaign in an attempt to gain control of strategic districts and topple the Taliban.

CNN's Steve Harrigan spoke with CNN and gave the following report from northern Afghanistan:

CNN: There are reports of heavy fighting all night long in northern Afghanistan, what have you heard?

HARRIGAN: We could hear it actually very clearly from the house we're staying in here in northern Afghanistan. Heavy shelling throughout the night -- it started about 3 a.m. and continued for several hours. So that was coming from the opposition here in the Northern Alliance toward the Taliban positions.

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Also just a short time ago, we saw Taliban fighter planes fly overhead. The Taliban, as you know, fly during the day, it is said by the Northern Alliance. But their pilots are not skilled enough to fly at night.

So here, if we could just take a look behind me now at some of the tanks, you can see for yourself some of the arsenal of the Northern Alliance. It's somewhat of a rag-tag hand-me-down bunch of weapons -- a lot of those old Soviet weapons, hand-me-down from past wars. Of course, the fighting here has been going on for two decades -- first, against the Soviets then against the Taliban.

We have seen those tanks drive off in the morning towards the front line, drive off sometimes in the late afternoon and then come back. A couple of those tanks, however, we've seen really them just start them up, drive them a few yards, and then drive them back almost as if they're dealing with a used car that they want to keep running.

So we've seen a hot night of fighting, and we've seen some preparations here. As the Northern Alliance says, it continues to make-ready to work with the Americans should military action come.

CNN: In your talks there with the (people of the) Northern Alliance, what is it that they are expecting to have happen when all the dust settles in Afghanistan? Are they expecting to be installed as the official de facto government there?

HARRIGAN: The Northern Alliance actually ruled Afghanistan right before they were kicked out by the Taliban. So from 1994 to 1996, this country was ruled by the Northern Alliance. It was a very stormy rule though, marked by infighting, marked by violence in Kabul and marked by charges of corruption. Their job is going to be even tougher should they get that chance, because they just lost their charismatic leader, General Masood. He was assassinated right before the terrorist attacks in the United States.

So the Northern Alliance is facing some real challenges. Can they keep their own alliance together? Can they take Kabul? And should they do take the capital city, will they be able to hold on? Unless that they are driven out like last time when they failed in 1996.

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