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Ryan Chilcote: Fighting on road to Konduz

CNN Producer Ryan Chilcote
CNN Producer Ryan Chilcote  

(CNN) -- Ryan Chilcote is a CNN producer in northern Afghanistan. He accompanied Northern Alliance troops into the town of Khanabad as the anti-Taliban forces advanced toward Konduz Sunday.

Q: How did this latest push by the Northern Alliance get started?

CHILCOTE: The Northern Alliance began moving west Sunday afternoon in the direction of Khanabad and Konduz just after a couple of hundred Afghan Taliban surrendered at the Northern Alliance front lines. That was their cue, if you will, to move west and attack. That's what they began to do in rapid succession, moving in [former] Russian military trucks or pickups or on foot toward Konduz -- but first to Khanabad, which lies along the way about 10 miles outside Konduz.

As we left the Bangi Bridge, we saw the Northern Alliance forces had moved up their multiple rocket launchers. They're Russian-made Grads and they are devastating pieces of war machinery. They can launch 48 rockets capable of traveling as far as 25 kilometers. They're meant for sector bombing. You cover an area with them, and they're just brutal devices of warfare.

Some were literally running with their weapons -- machine guns, grenade launchers or assault rifles -- down this road. By car, we were at least an hour from Konduz. By foot, even running, that would take five, six or seven hours.

Literally everything was going by at a breakneck pace. That continued until we got just a couple of miles short of Khanabad, where all of a sudden our convoy came upon a gun battle. All of a sudden, we heard gunfire. We heard machine gun fire, we heard mortar fire. The troops immediately abandoned their vehicles and took up positions along the road against what they said were al Qaeda terrorists.

As we started to move back a little bit, our car was literally commandeered by two Northern Alliance soldiers who were fleeing their own troops. They wanted to go back east, toward the Bangi Bridge.

It was chaotic, and we managed to get a little bit of calm in the car. I explained to these guys that we couldn't take them, you guys have a war to fight. Our translator said one of these guys identified himself as the commander of the troops he was fleeing from. At this point -- this was about a kilometer from where the fighting began -- he said, 'OK, let us out.' So we let them out, and we continued back a little ways for safety, regrouped and were pleased to see that gun battle had ended.

Q: What was the mood like in Khanabad as the Northern Alliance moved in?

CHILCOTE: Khanabad was rather chaotic. What we noticed was while there was this stream of troops moving westward toward Konduz, through Khanabad, they were not leaving a lot of troops behind to secure areas or search the areas they had taken. We were seeing dozens of troops as opposed to the hundreds or maybe thousands that were moving earlier. That was a little bit of a red flag, because we were hearing there were still Taliban soldiers nearby.

We parked just outside the former home of a Taliban commander. The house was at that time being searched by Northern Alliance troops anxious to find some kind of information, some documents, left by the Taliban commander who fled. There was a large group of people around this house and they looked rather bewildered or even scared by the large influx of Northern Alliance soldiers.

It was not a scene where people were jubilant and happy to see their village being liberated by the Northern Alliance. Most of the people in that village are ethnic Pashtuns that make up the support base for the Taliban.

A couple of them told us that less than 40 minutes before our arrival hundreds of Pakistani and Chechen fighters had stood in the same place, but fled the area in a gun battle with Northern Alliance troops. They said they fled west, in the direction of Konduz.

Q: How concerned were they with securing the areas behind them as they advanced?

CHILCOTE: They didn't seem to have any qualms with it. They just kept moving forward. It was literally a race to Konduz -- 15-20 miles away from Khanabad, running with their weapons. That kind of gives you an idea of the intensity of this push. From what we could see, cameraman Greg Danilenko and I, we did not see many soldiers staying behind.

When you reconcile that with reports from the local residents, at least in Khanabad, that there have been al Qaeda fighters and hundreds of Pakistani fighters there just 40 minutes before, one wonders where they went and when are they doing to come out. It was far from a very secure environment, because the Northern Alliance was not leaving a lot of troops behind to secure areas.

Q: Were the Taliban leaving behind any heavy weapons as the Northern Alliance advanced?

CHILCOTE: We didn't see any equipment left behind by Taliban troops, although the Taliban troops that defected yesterday and today had already brought over quite a bit of weaponry and machinery with them -- tanks and anti-aircraft guns, also trucks and pickups.

In Afghanistan, pickup trucks are considered an instrument of warfare, because you can move large numbers of troops through bad roads with them. They were fully armed all these Taliban soldiers that defected, but we didn't see any abandoned weaponry along the road.


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