Alliance says it's ready to push south
HERAT, Afghanistan (CNN) -- With the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan cut off, a Northern Alliance commander said Friday he was prepared to push south toward the last areas under Taliban control.
Ismaeil Khan, leader of the Northern Alliance's western forces, told CNN his troops have already begun their battle for Marjeh and Nadali, two towns near the airport in Helmand province. Helmand is just north of Kandahar, the embattled Taliban's political and spiritual base. Northern Alliance leaders have sent 3,000 fighters into the area, said Khan's son Mirweiss Khan, Herat's security chief.
The Taliban have said they will not withdraw from Kandahar, and alliance forces in Herat expect a major battle for the city.
Taliban officials said this week they still have control of Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, Zabol, and part of Ghazni -- all provinces in southern Afghanistan. But local tribal leaders said Taliban control was limited and top Taliban commanders had been discussing a possible surrender in at least three of the provinces.
CNN could not confirm either report.
In northern Afghanistan, meanwhile, U.S. warplanes bombed Taliban positions Friday near Konduz, where the Taliban were still holed up despite an agreement to surrender there soon.
Senior commanders with the Northern Alliance maintained that the Taliban fighters in Konduz would lay down their arms Sunday, in accordance with an agreement struck Wednesday between top leaders from both sides. But Northern Alliance fighters near Konduz, skeptical of the promised surrender, continued to press toward the city.
Northern Alliance forces claimed to have captured the village of Saka, about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from Konduz, but the Taliban recaptured the city after a massive counteroffensive.
Wednesday, Taliban commander Mullah Faizel and Northern Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum agreed that the Taliban fighters would give up control of Konduz, the Taliban's last stronghold in northern Afghanistan. Dostum said both Afghan troops and the "foreign fighters" -- mostly Arabs, Chechens, Pakistanis and Uzbeks -- would surrender.
Dostum said Afghan fighters who surrender will be taken to Mazar-e Sharif and allowed to return home. But the international volunteers fighting alongside the Taliban will be arrested and tried according to the laws of the Islamic state of Afghanistan, he said.
The United States has said it does not want any of the Taliban's international corps or any suspected terrorists to be allowed to return to their home countries.
For more than a week, the Northern Alliance has alleged that al Qaeda fighters and the non-Afghan troops fighting with the Taliban in Konduz have been killing local Taliban fighters who want to defect or surrender to the Northern Alliance. But as opposition pressure on Konduz continued, the Taliban put up new resistance Friday southwest of Kabul.
Northern Alliance and Taliban gunners traded artillery fire outside the town of Maidan Shahr, where between 2,000 and 3,000 Taliban fighters remained holed up in the hills around town. Northern Alliance commander Abdul Ahmed says as many as 800 of the Taliban are non-Afghans -- mostly Arabs and Pakistanis.
Opposition commanders said they had an agreement with Taliban leaders to surrender and give up their arms, but when opposition forces moved in, the Taliban put up a fight.
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