Northern Alliance moves toward Kabul
NEAR BAGRAM, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Sources in the Northern Alliance Defense Ministry have told CNN an order has been given to begin an assault toward the capital, Kabul.
Hundreds of opposition troops are moving south in the direction of the front lines north of Kabul. Meanwhile, Northern Alliance and Taliban artillery are exchanging artillery fire. The alliance also said its forces have captured the key western city of Herat, though that was disputed by the Taliban.
The United States has asked the Northern Alliance not to advance into Kabul, fearing fighting that could weaken the chance of building a post-Taliban coalition government. The alliance foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, told reporters Sunday that while there was no "set plan to move into Kabul," he would not rule it out.
After meeting over the weekend with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, U.S. President George Bush said control of Kabul was key to any future political arrangement in the country.
Abdullah said the United States may be listening too much to Pakistani interests and concerns, though sources tell CNN that the alliance has agreed to stop before entering Kabul.
Pakistan does not support the Northern Alliance -- mostly made up of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks -- in a post-Taliban government, should the regime fall. Most Pakistanis are Pashtun, like their Afghan neighbors, and support a Pashtun-dominated government.
"Two and a half months ago, Pakistan was portraying Taliban as the best option for Afghanistan and for the region," Abdullah said on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. "That shouldn't be forgotten. The United Front (Northern Alliance) is already consisting of Pashtuns."
Troops on the move
CNN photographer Wojciech Treszczynski saw heavy trucks carrying as many as 500 opposition troops, 12 tanks and armored personnel carriers and old Russian jeeps heading toward the front lines.
He said there was some bombardment overnight by U.S. planes on Bagram, about 39 miles (63 km) north of Kabul, but it was not heavy.
The bombing continued after daybreak Monday, but it was not as constant as the nighttime raids. Treszczynski said there were several U.S. planes flying over the Shomali Plains.
There was also some limited artillery fire coming from Northern Alliance positions toward the Taliban front lines.
Overnight, heavy artillery fire and troop movement could be seen about six miles (10 km) away from Kabul.
Regarding the capture of Herat, Northern Alliance sources in Tehran said their forces attacked the city Monday on two fronts and met only minimal resistance from the Taliban. Opposition sources told CNN that about 20 Taliban soldiers were killed in the fight for the city.
The Taliban denied they had lost control of Herat, though admitted that there wsa fierce fighting around the city.
Shrine report denied
The Northern Alliance claimed Sunday it had seized control of several strategic sites in central and northern Afghanistan, including the cities of Taloqan, Pul-e-Khumri and the city and province of Bamian. Abdullah said the advances indicate the Taliban "have lost their main fighting force."
"There could always be a counter-attack," he said. "I think that the forces on the ground are sensitive to that."
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Northern Alliance forces "are pursuing the Taliban out of the city in several directions" and that U.S. forces are attacking them from the air as they leave. Asked for an estimate on Taliban casualties, Rumsfeld put the figure at "more than 200."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon Sunday denied of a report that U.S. forces struck a shrine in the village of Shahagha Thursday, killing at least 128 civilians and burying hundreds of villagers in the rubble of their own houses.
A senior military official told CNN: "We have reviewed overhead imagery after a strike nearby, and it shows no damage to any civilian structure, personnel or shrine."
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