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Alliance moves in as Taliban retreat from Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Facing a series of rapid advances by forces from the opposition Northern Alliance Afghanistan's ruling Taliban have withdrawn most of their troops from the Afghan capital, Kabul.

In their place Alliance forces began advancing into the outskirts of the city.

Independent sources in Kabul told CNN Correspondent Kamal Hyder that the bulk of Taliban forces were leaving Kabul, moving along a road to the south.

In Washington, a U.S. official told CNN "it does appear that large numbers of Taliban forces are leaving Kabul."

However, the official went on to say "not all" of the Taliban forces may be leaving the city.

On Monday Alliance forces said they had stopped about four miles (six kilometers) outside of Kabul, but commanders said they would halt their advance because they did not want to see any fighting in the city itself.

"We don't want to see any fighting inside Kabul," Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said.

"Kabul is already destroyed, more than half, as a result of the fighting of the past years, and the civilians have suffered enough -- more than enough. They cannot take any more."

U.S. caution

Now with Alliance forces poised to take over Kabul U.S. officials have urged the opposition to hold back until more can be done to form a broad-based government to replace the Taliban.

Given the swift pace of the opposition advance in recent days, diplomats at the United Nations in New York are speeding up efforts to bring together members of the various Afghan groups for discussions on a post-Taliban government.

"We have to be nimble," said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "We have to move quickly, and we have to be flexible."

In Kabul itself several residents have told CNN they are unhappy at the prospect of the Northern Alliance taking control of the city.

Some were reported to be leaving fearing a takeover of the city.

Afghans experienced numerous hardships while the Northern Alliance governed Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996, frequently battling each other in factional squabbles.

Earlier Monday Alliance forces launched a ferocious artillery attack on Taliban positions north of Kabul.

Alliance fighters said they met little resistance on the "old road" into Kabul -- referring to the eastern approach to the city.


Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said there was some resistance from the Taliban on the "new road" from Bagram to Kabul, but he said that resistance was broken.

Northern Alliance commanders said pockets of Taliban fighters continued to fight -- some taking shelter in bombed-out buildings, while others trapped behind the opposition advance were blowing themselves up with hand grenades and land mines, rather than surrendering.

In recent days the Alliance has succeeded in capturing much of the northern part of Afghanistan -- most recently taking the key western city of Herat and the northern province of Baghlan.

When the U.S.-led bombing campaign began just over a month ago the Alliance controlled only about five-percent of Afghanistan in the northeast of the country.

In Herat, near the Iranian border, CNN sources confirmed Monday that the Alliance had gained control of the city.

Ismail Khan, a former governor of Herat and a senior Alliance commander is returning to resume control.

Northern Alliance sources in Tehran, Iran, said their troops also took control of the Shindand military base south of Herat and areas west of the city, along the border with Iran.

Alliance troops were in control of border crossings, the sources said.


At the end of last week, it made its first major breakthrough -- taking the strategically important city of Mazar-e Sharif.

In Washington Pentagon officials said they had received reports from the city of people celebrating the Taliban departure with groups of people playing music and women taking off the restrictive veils and clothing they were forced to wear.

However, U.N. officials say the situation in Mazar-e Sharif is extremely volatile with street violence and looting reported.

They have issued a plea for calm so that international aid workers could continue their work in the city.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official said the U.S. military was "not unsatisfied" by the latest opposition advances.

While resistance by the Taliban had been "very sporadic" since the fall of Mazar-e Sharif, the official said, "I wouldn't say they were caving".

However, the official added that the Pentagon was getting "minimal information" about the military situation on the front lines near Kabul.


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