Alliance halts advance on Kabul, takes Herat
JEBAL SERAAJ, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The opposition Northern Alliance halted its drive toward Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Monday and captured the western city of Herat from the ruling Taliban.
After a weekend of dramatic gains in northeast Afghanistan, aided by heavy U.S. bombardment of Taliban positions, the Northern Alliance stopped just four miles (six kilometers) from Kabul, said Abdullah Abdullah, foreign minister of the alliance.
The alliance stopped voluntarily because Kabul has suffered from enough, he said.
"We don't want to see any fighting inside Kabul," he 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. officials have urged the opposition not to take Kabul until more can be done to form a broad-based government to replace the Taliban.
Meanwhile, some Kabul residents told CNN they were unhappy with the possibility of the Northern Alliance taking control of the city.
Some Afghans have said they experienced numerous hardships while the Northern Alliance governed Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996. Reports from indicated some Kabul residents were fleeing the city, fearing a Northern Alliance move into Kabul.
Opposition troops launched a ferocious artillery attack toward Taliban positions north of Kabul on Monday. Taliban gunners fired back, but the shelling from Taliban lines was less intense. U.S. aircraft aided Monday's advance by striking along the battlefront. Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the mountain ridge on which Taliban troops were entrenched. American warplanes, including at least one B-52, launched overnight raids on Bagram, about 39 miles (63 kilometers) north of Kabul, and lighter raids continued after daybreak Monday.
Aided by a month of U.S. aerial bombardment, Northern Alliance troops advanced rapidly across northeastern Afghanistan over the weekend, claiming control of Mazar-e Sharif and Taloqan since Friday.
The U.N. World Food Program said street battles persisted in Mazar-e Sharif, along with looting and the abduction of civilians, after the alliance captured the city from the Taliban on Friday.
The relief agency called on all combatants Monday to guarantee the safety of aid workers in the city and allow them to continue their work.
In Herat, meanwhile, independent sources told CNN that Northern Alliance forces took control of the city Monday afternoon, encountering only light resistance. Taliban forces withdrew to positions several miles south of the city near the airport, Iran's IRIB television network reported.
Earlier, Taliban officials acknowledged fierce fighting around the city but denied earlier reports of the city's capture.
About 20 Taliban soldiers were killed in the fight for the city, said Northern Alliance sources in Tehran, the capital of Iran. The alliance also took control of the Shindand military base, south of Herat, and border crossings into Iran, west of the city, they said.
Before the alliance forces moved into Herat, IRIB reported that many of Herat's young men stormed the Taliban headquarters to take arms. They later stormed the city's prison and freed many prisoners, the network reported.
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