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Taliban prisoner revolt crushed, cleanup begins

A Northern Alliance soldier uses the dead body of a Taliban fighter to rest his rifle during the prison revolt.
A Northern Alliance soldier uses the dead body of a Taliban fighter to rest his rifle during the prison revolt.  

By Alessio Vinci

MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Red Cross workers faced a grim task Wednesday recovering the bodies of hundreds of Taliban fighters inside a mud-brick walled fortress where they died in a bloody revolt against their Northern Alliance captors.

The rebellion near here ended Tuesday when a Northern Alliance tank repeatedly hit a building in the compound where the Taliban fighters used a basement location to fire on alliance forces. The building crumbled, crushing the Taliban beneath it.

But Red Cross officials said a small pocket of Taliban fighters remained alive beneath the rubble -- and posed a threat to the safety of the recovery workers should they detonate explosives as the workers drew near their location.

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Outside, hundreds of bodies and body parts littered the fortress compound's main courtyard, where much of the three-day battle took place. The Red Cross said it would collect the bodies, identify them when possible, and bury them in a mass grave outside the compound.

About 300 Taliban fighters from Konduz launched the rebellion Sunday when they smuggled weapons and explosives into the compound, which alliance forces used as a prison to hold surrendering fighters. Some launched suicide attacks, detonating hand grenades strapped across their bodies, killing themselves and anyone nearby.

Aided by U.S. airstrikes, Northern Alliance troops battling the rebellion gradually cut the numbers of the Taliban fighters until about 40 remained in the building that was finally destroyed Tuesday.

Northern Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum -- who used the fortress as a headquarters but was not on the site when the revolt began -- toured the site Wednesday, saying the revolt had been a well-planned plot to kill him and other alliance leaders.

But a top Taliban leader who had been negotiating with Dostum for the surrender of Konduz said the rebellious prisoners were mostly non-Afghan fighters who acted on their own.

Dostum also said the rebellion likely began because some of the prisoners were not fully searched on the first day, allowing them to smuggle weaponry into the compound.

Northern Alliance forces said Monday they lost between 100 and 150 fighters. Five U.S. servicemen were injured when an American jet bombed a U.S. location by mistake. The wounded troops, who were initially taken to Uzbekistan for treatment, have now been airlifted to a U.S. military hospital in Germany, the Pentagon said.


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