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Anti-Taliban fighters get boost



Afghanistan (CNN) -- As the United States rounds up allies for a possible strike on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, a top Afghan opposition leader says his ranks are being bolstered by overseas support.

With America and Britain threatening to attack the Taliban for refusing to hand over prime terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden, the foreign minister of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance government says he has met with U.S. officials.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah also confirmed for the first time his movement had received new offers of military aid from Russia and Iran, reports CNN’s Mathew Chance.

The United Nations recognizes the Northern Alliance as Afghanistan’s legitimate government and the group could be key in helping the U.S.-led war on terrorism, which might involve ousting the Taliban.

Renewed boost

The Northern Alliance, armed with about 15,000 fighters and an array of old Soviet tanks, has been fighting the Taliban for five years.

The Taliban swept the Northern Alliance out of Kabul five years ago. The Alliance now controls only about five percent of landlocked Afghanistan's rugged and inhospitable land.

In recent days the opposition group says it has gone back on the offensive after years of years losing ground to the Taliban, Chance reports.

“With the apparent military support that may be forthcoming from the United States, it’s given them an injection of energy and renewed enthusiasm,” says Chance, adding that the group was close to collapsing after their leader was killed recently.

The Taliban have admitted they have lost some territory, although Chance says it was difficult to verify this.

Prospect of cooperation

In a sign America is seeking to bolster the Alliance’s power, Abdullah said he has had daily contact with U.S. officials since the attacks, reports Chance.

While Abdullah would not say exactly what they were planning to do with the United States, he did say were looking at the entire range of options, including military.

The opposition leader, who predicted major defections in Taliban ranks, added there is likely to be some coordinated military action between their forces and those of the United States, Chance reports.

Abdullah, who has traveled several times by helicopter to neighboring Tajikistan in the past week, did not say whom he had met or where, but said it was outside Afghanistan, according to Reuters news agency reports.

Alliance officials have in the past said they were providing Washington with intelligence, and intended to use expected U.S. strikes on Taliban military targets to launch a major advance against their longtime enemies, Reuters adds.

Help from Russia, Iran

In another boost, Abdullah said traditional backers Russia and Iran, who have been united in their opposition of the Taliban, had said they would step up their support.

While Moscow and Tehran have long said they support the Afghan opposition, they have in the past been very careful to avoid saying explicitly that their backing includes military aid.

Russia has supplied weapons, such as Soviet-era tanks in the past, while Iran has bolstered the Alliance with weapons, money and diplomatic support.

New shipments of Russian and Iranian arms could help an advance, especially in the north near the border with Tajikistan, which is the easiest area for the alliance to supply by road.



 
 
 
 



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