Chris Burns: Stalemate reached
(CNN) -- U.S. President Bush signed off Monday on covert aid for opponents of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.
CNN's Chris Burns is on assignment in northern Afghanistan, where he has been tracking movements of the Northern Alliance, the main Taliban opposition group.
He joined CNN with the following update.
CHRIS BURNS: As night fell here... between here and Kabul is the front line, we heard some shell and machine gun fire going on the last couple of hours. It seems to have died down within the last hour, but we'll have to see what happens this evening.
(There has been) a lot of tension along that front, because there's been a buildup on both sides between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance trying to dislodge the Taliban and fight their way to Kabul. But the main action that's been going on in the last couple of days has been in the north.
Among a number of villages up there, where both sides have been battling back and forth to try to gain control, it's been a stalemate, but the Northern Alliance claims to have taken a town called Kadis (and) captured 30 Taliban fighters and one commander. They say that 200 Taliban fighters defected, and that 19 commanders also came over to the other side. Of course that cannot be confirmed by us, independently.
There's another town called Namak Koh, and that is where the Northern Alliance says that they repelled a Taliban attack and killed four Taliban fighters. This all goes in the context where the Northern Alliance is hoping for U.S. support. If there is U.S. support, they say they can break through this deadlock that's been going on for the last five years since they were expelled from Kabul.
But, consider this kind of nightmare scenario: They get back to Kabul. There, once again factional fighting (could break out). This is why there is a very concerted diplomatic effort right now in Rome to put together some kind of a coalition government that would take over after the Taliban.
Now, today there was announced by the various factions, including the king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, that they do plan some kind of interim government for two years after the Taliban are dislodged, that they would hold a grand assembly, a Loya Jirga, very soon, in their words. But it's not very clear exactly when or where.
Still, it does show some indication that there is progress. Another development to show that the Taliban are rather concerned about this, is that they announced today that in three provinces they are willing to take nonreligious members into their government, that meaning tribal elders. That indicates that they are rather concerned about what's going on in Rome.
CNN: Give us a perspective, if you could. Frame up the actions of the Northern Alliance there. In the days after the attacks back on the September 11, it was noted that their activity stepped up militarily. Has it stayed at that pace? Has it gone up or down, or how would you characterize it?
BURNS: It has gone up and down. In fact, about a week ago there was some very, very intense shelling by the Northern Alliance against a buildup of Taliban forces along this front line that is about 30 to 40 miles north of Kabul. But then it died down. … They said that they were successful in disbursing the Taliban, and that calmed down. The gains that they had announced in a number of days also died down. In fact, there were a couple of towns that it is believed the Taliban has once again taken hold of.
So it does look like, once again, we've reached some kind of a stalemate situation. That has gone on for the last five years, and that is why there is hope among the Northern Alliance that the Bush administration will step in, as some reports do suggest, that there could be some help on the way for the Northern Alliance.
There, of course, has to be that concern that, if the Northern Alliance does get down to Kabul, there will be (a) coalition government representing not just the Northern Alliance but other factions within Afghanistan.
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