Afghan opposition launches new attack
DASHTIQALA, Afghanistan (CNN) -- After gaining control of the strategic city of Mazar-e Sharif, Northern Alliance forces launched a new assault Saturday in northern Afghanistan equipped with a fresh supply of munitions.
Opposition troops met fierce resistance around Kolkata Hill, near the Taliban-controlled cities of Taloquan and Kunduz. Heavy artillery, the first such rounds leveled by the Taliban in this area, killed a Northern Alliance commander and a civilian in the town of Dashtiqala, sources told CNN.
Several opposition fighters were badly wounded, losing limbs from what doctors confirmed were anti-personnel mines.
A good deal of air activity -- including raids by American B-52 heavy bombers -- was evident Saturday in the skies over Dashtiqala. Taliban forces fired at the planes, while Northern Alliance troops claimed to have launched an offensive against those forces.
Witnesses in the town said they saw many opposition tanks and trucks heading toward the front line overnight. Northern Alliance field commanders in the area told CNN they had 70 tanks on the move -- a claim that could not be verified.
Several hundred miles to the southeast, a nearly 15-hour bombing silence near Bagram air base in the Shomali Plains ended Saturday night with the appearance of high-altitude bomber. The plane dropped two bombs on Taliban positions on its second and third runs, including one that shook a facility housing CNN staff six miles away.
Earlier Saturday, the Taliban confirmed that Mazar-e Sharif had fallen to Northern Alliance troops. The Taliban news agency Bakhtar said Taliban forces had made a strategic withdrawal and were trying to regroup in a town to the southeast.
Taliban sources said the withdrawal proved Taliban forces are able to redeploy in spite of the allied air superiority, adding that Mazar-e Sharif's fall marked only one battle in the midst of a war. The Northern Alliance advance followed seven days of intense bombing by allied planes -- strikes that appeared to turn the tide in the battle and threatened the Taliban with heavy casualties if they had stayed. Taliban sources told CNN that allied bombers were using fuel-air explosives, which disperse a cloud of aluminum powder that is then ignited to produce a large explosion.
U.N. members acknowledged Northern Alliance control of the city on Saturday, with the so-called "Six Plus Two" groupw urging all parties to observe international humanitarian law.
The group was formed in 1997 to find a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. it includes Afghanistan's neighboring nations -- Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan -- plus Russia and the United States.
The countries called for opposition leaders to allow the "immediate return of international staff to Mazar-i-Sharif to respond to urgent humanitatian needs."
In another attack, sources told CNN that at least 128 civilians were killed and a shrine leveled Friday when allied planes bombed and destroyed the village of Shahagha, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Kandahar.
Survivors requested the help of bulldozers to uncover more bodies, believed to be in the rubble. The village was near a dam, which could have been the intended target of the bombing.
-- CNN Correspondents Ben Wedeman, Satinder Bindra and Kamal Hyder contributed to this report.
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