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Alliance urges talks for Taliban to give up Konduz

Northern Alliance
The Northern Alliance fires artillery from the front lines outside Konduz, Afghanistan.  

KONDUZ, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Northern Alliance commanders sent a delegation Monday to the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan in hopes of convincing the Taliban garrison to surrender.

Konduz remained in Taliban hands despite reports that its governor and the Taliban commander there had offered to surrender the city to the United Nations. Fighting was reportedly fierce around the city, which is controlled by hard-line Chechen, Pakistani and Arab fighters aligned with the Taliban, and U.S. warplanes, including B-52 heavy bombers, pounded the area Monday.

CNN's Matthew Chance tours a prison in Kabul, where prisoners suspected of being Taliban members await their fate (November 18)

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Roughly 30,000 Northern Alliance troops have surrounded Konduz, but their commanders said they do not have enough supplies, ammunition and weaponry to launch a major offensive on the city. The alliance's Gen. Atiqullah Baryalai, however, said he was prepared to attack some sectors around Konduz if talks fail.

A source told CNN that Haji Bashar, a close associate of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's, is negotiating with the Northern Alliance for the release of Afghan Taliban fighters trapped inside the city. Bashar wants the Afghan fighters to be allowed to leave the city and return safely to their villages, the source said.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that Washington does not want to see suspected terrorists or the Taliban's international volunteers go free.

"It's our hope that they would not engage in negotiations that would provide for the release of al Qaeda forces, that would provide for the release of foreign nationals," Rumsfeld said. "The idea that they would keep their weapons is not a happy one from our standpoint either."

Though U.S. advisers are assisting the anti-Taliban forces, "We're not in a position of determining or controlling this," he said.

Tens of thousands of civilians reportedly remained in Konduz. The Northern Alliance said it wants to settle affairs with the Taliban peacefully to avoid civilian casualties during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The battle already has spurred a significant flight of refugees from the city, and the refugees -- some with children -- said the airstrikes have caused civilian casualties around Konduz.

Civilians are fleeing the city of Konduz.  

"Out of the 20 bombs that the U.S. planes dropped, one bomb fell on a residential area and killed three people -- two men and one woman," said Afghan refugee Ahmad Khalid, whose account could not be independently verified.

There were also reports that the Taliban's allies were killing Afghan troops who wanted to surrender -- and sometimes each other when faced with capture.

"I have seen reports that people have been found with bullets in their heads and not in the fronts," Rumsfeld said. "Some of those reports are from people who have in fact escaped from Konduz, but I'm not in a position to validate them."

CNN Correspondent Satinder Bindra and writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.


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