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Burns: Taliban fighting back

CNN Correspondent Chris Burns
CNN Correspondent Chris Burns  

NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- On the twelfth day of U.S.-led airstrikes on Afghanistan, reports suggest the bombing is not as intense as it previously has been. Other reports, however, claim there have been civilian casualties in Kabul and Kandahar.

Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance allowed reporters to visit with a dozen men who they say defected from the Taliban side. CNN Correspondent Chris Burns filed this report from northern Afghanistan.

BURNS: The airstrikes began before dawn Thursday and they've hit Kabul and Kandahar, among other places. In Kabul they hit a military base; they are also believed to hit a tank unit and air defenses. Anti-aircraft fire appears much less in the last few days. In other words, it does appear that the airstrikes have had their effect there.

However, there are also casualties on the civilian side. In the last few hours, a wire report claims that six civilians were killed in the Kabul airstrikes. Also, there's a hospital there with at least ten injured, seen by international reporters.

In Kandahar, the Taliban reports 20 killed there. It's difficult to confirm independently. The fighting goes on in and around Mazar-e-Sharif, the key strategic town that the Northern Alliance is trying to seize back. They say that they are within three kilometers of the airport. That airport was struck by airstrikes in the last few days.

However, the Taliban are fighting back. The Northern Alliance admits the Taliban have taken back some positions, but the alliance still claims to dominate the situation.

More fighting is reported in other provinces. In Takhar province, U.S. airstrikes have hit Taliban troop positions. In Oruzgan in the central part of Afghanistan, as well as in Herat, the Northern Alliance claims to be advancing. Again, it's very hard to verify the Northern Alliance claims because of the remoteness of that mountainous territory there.

We saw some defectors that the Northern Alliance says came over from the Taliban side. There were a dozen defectors from the front between here and Kabul. They say they believe the Taliban's days are numbered. They said, however, they did not see any airstrikes in the areas where they were. That does agree with what some alliance commanders say, that the airstrikes yet to have an effect on that front line.

However, the Northern Alliance had been talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of defections around Afghanistan, and they showed only 12. There were more reporters than defectors today.

CNN: So basically, the number of defectors doesn't necessarily mean that they will have much of an impact on the strength of the Taliban, that in fact just a few have left and the Taliban ground troops still seems to be pretty strong.

BURNS: It does appear to be, in certain places. However, the Northern Alliance does claim there are some battles they are winning without firing a shot, just by persuading someone on the other side to come to the Northern Alliance side. Again, it's very difficult to determine from this end. And yes, if anything is to be gauged, the battle for Mazar-e-Sharif is not an easy battle for the Northern Alliance to wage. So despite any defections they might report, they're still having trouble on the ground there.


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