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Northern Alliance presses U.S. to rethink strategy

By Satinder Bindra
CNN in Northern Afghanistan

KHOJA BAHAWUDDIN, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Anti-Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan have urged the United States to end its bombing campaign before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Northern Alliance, also known as the United Front, says the U.S. has to be more sensitive about the rising civilian casualty list and the possiblilty of attacks during Ramadan upsetting Muslim countries.

As planes continue to bomb front-line Taliban positions, the Alliance has said Washington should step up such attacks. Ramadan begins on or around November 17.

"It would be preferable if we see the end of this campaign with objectives achieved before the end of Ramadan," said Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance foreign minister.

CNN's Matthew Chance reports from Afghanistan on the Northern Alliance's military preparedness

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Widespread Muslim anger -- and a subsequent fracturing of international support for U.S.-led attacks -- could be the result of any civilian casualties during Ramadan, Abdullah said.

"Some sort of civilian casualties are inevitable in a military campaign [but] on the other side there are ways ∑ to avoid major civilian casualties," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that while he hopes goals of the U.S. military campaign against Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban will be accomplished in the next few days, he could not rule out an engagement into Ramadan and winter.

"We are sensitive about Ramadan beginning in mid-November," Powell said. "But we cannot make that the sole determining factor behind what we do militarily."

Lengthy battle possible

The Northern Alliance did acknowledge that the recent American attacks on front-line Taliban positions signaled the start of a more aggressive U.S. campaign.

Northern Alliance and U.S. commanders have also met to discuss military strategy.

The Taliban -- the common enemy of the U.S. and Northern Alliance troops -- still control two strategic northern cities, Taloqan and Mazar-e Sharif.

Northern Alliance troops are engaging Taliban forces on both these fronts but it may be some time before Mazar-e Sharif changes hands.

"The fighting going on in Mazhar is not in the city, it is in the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif in the mountains. It will be a few days before we can talk about the city itself," said Abdullah.


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