U.S. planes bomb Taliban positions in northern Afghanistan
TALOQAN, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. aircraft bombed Taliban positions Saturday in two villages in the Konduz province, according to a local Northern Alliance commander, who observed the airstrikes from a hilltop two miles (three kilometers) away.
The bombing began at 8:30 a.m. Saturday local time (10 p.m. Friday EST) and continued until about noon.
Many opposition fighters slept through the start of the airstrikes, and the Northern Alliance did not appear to be preparing a military attack to follow the allied bombing.
The Northern Alliance controls several villages on the eastern edge of the Konduz province. It has promised to attack the provincial capital if the Taliban fighters do not surrender in the coming days.
On Friday, a senior Northern Alliance military official told CNN the opposition would allow the Taliban's Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters at Konduz to leave as long as they surrender their weapons. Northern Alliance officials said they would be prepared to give them safe passage by air, possibly into Pakistan.
The Northern Alliance estimates the Taliban has 10,000 troops in the city of Konduz, which it has surrounded. The Pentagon puts that number at 3,000.
The Taliban troops in Konduz are the last holdouts in northern Afghanistan. Because the troops are mostly fighters from other countries, they are unlikely to surrender unconditionally.
The Northern Alliance has made rapid gains over the past week, seizing the capital, Kabul, and the major cities of Mazar-e Sharif and Herat as Taliban forces have retreated. The offer to allow Taliban fighters to retreat from Konduz comes amid busy, informal diplomatic activity around the city, even as the Taliban and Northern Alliance fight for it.
The capture of Konduz would open up land routes for relief aid and other supplies from Tajikistan.
Elsewhere in northern Afghanistan, Mazar-e Sharif is firmly under the control of Northern Alliance soldiers Saturday. The northern city is ruled by a joint military command made up of generals who captured the city, including Gen. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek who ruled Mazar-e Sharif for a decade before the Taliban took control.
Alliance soldiers cleaning up the runway at the city's airport told CNN they were not sure if there were any plans to repair the airport. U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said Friday that French forces are repairing the airport, while U.S. and British aircraft are using Bagram air base north of Kabul.
Also, a small contingent of French and possibly British troops are on their way to Mazar-e Sharif to aid in the movement of humanitarian supplies. Humanitarian aid has been stockpiled in nearby Termez, Uzbekistan, and the military may clear the way to open Friendship Bridge, the main route from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan that has been closed for several years.
CNN Producer Ryan Chilcote and CNN Correspondent Alessio Vinci contributed to this report
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