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On The Scene

Chris Burns: Taliban 'fighting back'

CNN Corrrespondent Chris Burns is with the Northern Alliance in northeast Afghanistan.  

NORTHEAST AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- As U.S. Special Operations forces reportedly landed and executed their mission in the region near Kandahar, fighting between the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance and the Taliban continued across much of northern Afghanistan.

After reporting gains in recent weeks, opposition forces now concede that the Taliban is defending its turf and, in some cases, launching offensives. CNN's Chris Burns is in Northern Alliance-controlled territory in northeast Afghanistan, where he gave a status report on the ongoing battles.

BURNS: The Taliban are fighting back, even the Northern Alliance admits that. They say that's true up in Mazar-e Sharif, a very strategic town up in the north that the Taliban holds and that the Northern Alliance would like to get hold of before winter sets in. The Taliban pushed the Northern Alliance back about a mile-and-a-half in the last day or so. Now they are about five miles outside of town.

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The Northern Alliance claims that seven commanders and 200 troops on the Taliban side have defected, but that doesn't seem to be doing too much on the ground.

The Taliban claim on the other ground, that (a Northern Alliance commander) was killed in the fighting. The Northern Alliance was quick to respond and say no, he's still alive. They say he is now with a number of U.S. military personnel, as many as 20 believed to be liaising, as far as intelligence, around that battle area.

And at the same time, there are U.S.-led airstrikes in Samangan province, just to the south and east of Mazar-e Sharif, striking at Taliban troop positions. So it does appear that there is a coordinated effort to try to get hold of Mazar-e Sharif before winter sets in.

There's also fighting in Ghowr province, as the Northern Alliance says the Taliban are launching an attack in a district there. The Northern Alliance had hold of that district up until now.

Also, along the front here we saw an exchange -- a fierce exchange -- of mortar, machine gun and artillery fire today as well as the night before. There's not been much progress on either side, but it is going on and it does terrorize people who live very close nearby.

As to refugees, the U.N. High Commissioner says hundreds of thousands of people are on the move tonight.


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