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Chris Burns: Fighting continues between Taliban, Northern Alliance

Chris Burns in northern Afghanistan
Chris Burns in northern Afghanistan  

(CNN) -- While U.S.-led forces struck military targets from the air overnight Sunday in Afghanistan, the civil war between the Taliban and opposition forces continued on the ground in northern Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, warned the opposition Northern Alliance not to use its military advantage against the Taliban as a means to take control of the government.

CNN's Chris Burns has been traveling with the Northern Alliance. He gave the following report from northern Afghanistan.

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BURNS: Well, today there is more scattered, sporadic artillery fire that we have heard now. The Northern Alliance says that at least some of that is target practice, but we are hearing it from the direction of the front line so it's very likely that there is a continued exchange of fire.

Of course, this comes after a night of a six-hour blitz coordinated between British-American forces of attacking from the air and also the Northern Alliance attacking from the ground, firing Katyusha multiple rockets and tank fire as well -- artillery fire, just pounding away at the thousands of the Taliban troops that lie on the other side of the front -- that front being between here and Kabul.

The Taliban had fired back with various mortar and artillery fire as well, and now the Northern Alliance is doing some bomb damage assessment of its own trying to see whether it has actually -- these strikes Sunday night in the north of Kabul -- in Kabul and six different cities -- also three in the north -- whether that has softened the defenses of the Taliban to the point that they can actually advance.

Now what they're looking at mainly right now is Mazar-e-Sharif as well as Kabul. But Mazar-e-Sharif is especially important for them because it is a northern Taliban stronghold, and that is what they have been aiming at and advancing toward in the last few days. And if they see that there is enough -- the defenses are softened enough at that point, they will continue toward that city.

The commander of some troops -- we saw him giving a pep talk to some of the Northern Alliance troops -- telling them how they will be aiming at Kabul once the time is right. That force, of course, is not very well-equipped. It has a lot of aging Soviet equipment, Russian ammunition. And they are hoping though that with the aid of those airstrikes that they will be able to advance toward Kabul.

Refugees so far -- there is no major flow of refugees in this direction, although there is that fear that more than 1 million refugees could be on the move if this fighting and the airstrikes do continue.

In an exchange of verbal fire that we heard between the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, and the Northern Alliance -- Musharraf saying that he thinks that the Northern Alliance shouldn't try to get mileage from this situation.

Musharraf said earlier, "This action should not be allowed to be taken advantage of by the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance must not draw mileage out of this action, and the post-action scenario has to be extremely balanced."

By balanced, he means that there is an ethnic makeup in this country that needs to be well-represented in a government that would follow the Taliban. And the Northern Alliance, of course, calling itself the United Front -- claiming to represent all the Pashtuns in the south, who were ethnically linked to the Pakistanis, but also the Uzbeks and Tajiks in the north. However, there is worry by the Pakistani president that the Northern Alliance may perhaps ignore some of the concerns of the Pashtuns.

This has been going on for quite some time, and this debate -- this hot debate is expected to continue. Now, the counter -- verbal counterattack from the Northern Alliance foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, saying it is not for Pakistan to decide the political fate of Afghanistan. He says that, of course, we will have a broad-based government, a government that the United Nations and other internationals are trying to organize under the aegis -- with the role of the former king.

He says that Pakistan should stop using Afghanistan as, in his words, "a back yard to exercise its supremacy in the region and that Pakistan shouldn't be a king maker."

So some very sharp words from both sides as we see that Pakistan and the Northern Alliance are looking beyond the Taliban regime.


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