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Taliban: Reinforcements head for Uzbek border



ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Taliban military commanders say they are moving thousands of extra troops toward Afghanistan's border with Uzbekistan, according to Sharia Radio in Afghanistan.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 fighters are thought to be involved in the reinforcement, the radio reports.

The move comes after U.S. troops arrived in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic. About 1,000 light infantry troops from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, of Fort Drum, N.Y., were to be deployed.

Witnesses say air activity around Khanabad air base in the southeast of the former Soviet republic has increased dramatically in recent days with large planes and military helicopters flying in and out.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov announced Friday that he was allowing the U.S. use of an Uzbek air base, but only for humanitarian missions.

He did not say which airbase would be involved, but Khanabad is just 50 km north of the Afghan border

The agreement on use of the airbase came after last week's whirlwind tour of the region by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during which he held talks with President Karimov on Uzbekistan's role in the coalition against terror.

Uzbekistan warned

A Taliban official said on radio in Afghanistan that the forces being moved to the Uzbek border were prepared to fight to the last in order to repel any ground invasion.

In total, the Taliban claim to have between 40,000 and 60,000 soldiers ready to fight back against any U.S. incursion.

On Saturday, Taliban officials threatened to attack Uzbekistan if it allowed a U.S. strike against Afghanistan to be launched from Uzbek territory.

The buildup of troops on both sides of the Afghan-Uzbek border comes as the Taliban's supreme leader warned the U.S. not to use them as scapegoats for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

A translated statement from Mullah Mohammed Omar reads, in part: "Those who have perpetrated the attacks in the United States have left no traces behind them.

" If the United States thinks that the hijackers were the real culprits, then they have been killed... No one will commit suicide on the orders of another or for the aims and interests of others."

Alliance advances

Elsewhere in northern Afghanistan the opposition forces of the Northern Alliance say they have made new gains in their fight against the Taliban.

Alliance spokesman Mohammad Haabil said that forces fighting have seized one provincial capital and surrounded another.

He says Aybek, provincial capital of Samangan province, and five villages in the province have been taken.

The move brings the alliance closer to the Taliban stronghold of the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Aybek is about 80 kilometers southeast of the key city.

Also, the Northern Alliance claims to have seized 10 villages in the province of Ghowr, about 200 kilometers southwest of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Meanwhile, officials say, Alliance forces have surrounded Chaghcharan, the provincial capital which has an airport and is on a supply route to Mazar-e-Sharif.

During the latest fighting the Alliance claims some 60 Taliban fighters have defected with another 100 captured.



 
 
 
 



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