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Taliban making last stand in Konduz



KONDUZ, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The Taliban were fighting Friday to keep control of the only northern Afghanistan city still under their grip even as the Northern Alliance said the Taliban had agreed to soon surrender there.

"The battle continues to rage on the Konduz front," said CNN Correspondent Satinder Bindra, reporting from the front lines.

U.S. B-52 bombers continued to hammer Taliban positions near Konduz on Friday.

Tanks, small arms, rockets and grenade rocket launchers were fired in and around villages in the area. Thousands of Northern Alliance troops, along with tanks, raced to the front amid an intensive artillery attack on Taliban positions.

At one point, Bindra said, at least 12 Northern Alliance tanks barreled toward the front lines, and the Taliban responded with mortar rounds and small arms fire.

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Bindra said at least 300 Taliban fighters surrendered to the Northern Alliance, which has amassed 30,000 troops around Konduz.

"It was quite a sight. These Taliban were welcomed as heroes with huge fanfare," Bindra said. "It was also quite ironic in one sense to see people the Northern Alliance had been fighting with just hours ago to be given such a red carpet welcome."

None of the hard-core "foreign fighters" -- mostly Arabs, Chechens, Pakistanis and Uzbeks fighting for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network -- was among those who surrendered, he said.

Some Northern Alliance commanders said the attack was meant to send a message to those hard-core fighters: Surrender or die.

"If the ultimatum comes and they haven't decided on what they're going to do with their foreign guests -- if they are going to give them to us or not -- then ultimately ... we're going to fight them, and we're going to finish them off. And if that's what they choose, ultimately it's their own decision," said Haron Amin, a representative for the Northern Alliance.

Earlier, a top Northern Alliance commander, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, emerged from an hours-long meeting with a Taliban leader, Gen. Mullah Faizal, in Mazar-e Sharif and said Taliban fighters in Konduz had agreed to lay down their arms Sunday. The surrender would give the Northern Alliance full control of northern Afghanistan.

Dostum said both the Afghan fighters and the so-called "foreign fighters" -- who have vowed to fight to their death -- will surrender.

The Taliban troops will put down their weapons and give themselves up to Northern Alliance forces, said Dostum, who also said he planned to go to Konduz on Saturday with 5,000 troops to oversee the surrender. Fighters who surrender will be taken to Mazar-e Sharif, Dostum said, where the Afghan fighters will be allowed to return home and the foreign fighters will be arrested and tried according to the laws of the Islamic state of Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance will fight any Taliban fighters who do not surrender, Dostum said.

The United States has said it does not want any of the Taliban's international volunteers or suspected terrorists to be allowed to return to their home countries.

In talks Wednesday, Faizel said all the Taliban fighters in Konduz would no longer fight for control of the city.

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.

Dostum also said he is negotiating with other officials about other Taliban-controlled areas in Afghanistan, including the southern stronghold of Kandahar, the Taliban's religious headquarters. He did not elaborate on those talks.

With Taliban forces pushed into southern Afghanistan under relentless attacks from Britain and the United States in support of the Northern Alliance, Pakistan moved to sever its ties with the embattled rulers.

Pakistan, until Thursday the only country that still maintained diplomatic relations with the Taliban, ordered the Afghans to close their embassy in Islamabad and vacate the country. Diplomats began leaving Thursday afternoon, telling reporters they were going home to Kandahar.

Taliban leaders there declared it their religious duty Wednesday to fight for the southern city, where the fundamentalist movement began its systematic takeover of Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet-backed communist regime in 1989.

CNN Correspondent Alessio Vinci in Mazar-e Sharif and Producer Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 



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