Alliance halts advance on Kabul, takes Herat
(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, opposition Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said.
"We stopped because we didn't want to move into Kabul," Abdullah 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.
Afghans experienced numerous hardships while the Northern Alliance governed Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996, frequently battling each other in factional squabbles. Reports indicated some 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 were firing back, but the shelling from Taliban lines was less intense.
Abdullah said Northern Alliance fighters met little resistance on the "old road" into Kabul, referring to the eastern approach to the capital. There was some resistance from the Taliban on the "new road" from Bagram to Kabul, but Abdullah said that resistance was broken.
Northern Alliance commanders said pockets of Taliban fighters continued to fight, some taking shelter in bombed-out buildings, while other Taliban trapped behind the opposition advance were blowing themselves up with hand grenades and land mines, rather than surrendering.
A journalist from Iran's state-run television network said he witnessed very unusual, heavy troop movements Monday, and speculated that the Taliban may be retreating from Kabul. However, that could not be confirmed.
In Washington, a senior Pentagon official said the U.S. military is "not unsatisfied" by the latest opposition advances. While resistance by the Taliban has been "very sporadic" since the fall of Mazar-e Sharif, "I wouldn't say they were caving," the official said.
However, the senior official added that the Pentagon is getting "minimal information" about the military situation on the front lines near Kabul. 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 63 kilometers (39 miles) 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 the key cities of Mazar-e Sharif and Taloqan since Friday.
Pentagon officials said they have received reports from Mazar-e Sharif of people reveling after the Taliban were driven out of the city, including people playing music -- banned by the Taliban -- and women taking off the restrictive veils and clothing they were forced to wear.
The U.N. World Food Program, however, said street battles persisted in Mazar-e Sharif, along with looting and the abduction of civilians, after the Northern 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 after only light Taliban resistance. Taliban forces were withdrawing to positions several kilometers 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, Northern Alliance sources in the Iranian capital Tehran said. 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.
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