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Taleban continue to bombard former government troops

October 6, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT)

GOLBAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Taleban forces continued to bombard positions held by former government military chief Ahmed Shah Masood in Afghanistan's Panjsher Valley Sunday after consolidating their own positions on peaks at the valley entrance.

The fundamentalist Islamic Taleban, who have taken control of about three-quarters of the country, sent reinforcements to the mouth of the valley about 70 kilometers (43.4 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.

The Taleban began the attack on Saturday, firing volleys of rockets at Masood's positions above the narrow entrance to a rocky gorge leading into the valley. Masood's forces used anti-aircraft fire to keep Taleban helicopter gunships at bay on Saturday.

The assault was not unexpected -- Taleban commanders said they sent Masood a letter Tuesday demanding his surrender and threatening attack if he refused. Masood fled Kabul last week as Taleban forces captured the capital and set up their own government.

Masood successfully defended the remote Panjsher Valley against Soviet forces who backed Afghanistan's communist government during the 1980s. The Soviets were unable to shake Masood's fighters with onslaughts of bomber and helicopter landing attacks and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.

To defend against the Taleban attack, Masood used dynamite to cause landslides, blocking access to the valley by Taleban tanks. At least one former Western military officer who has been to the site said that he believed the Taleban could not wrest the valley away from Masood.

The Taleban have said they would not negotiate with Masood, who served as defense minister for the guerrilla government that took control of Afghanistan in 1992, three years after Soviet troops left the communist government to its own defense.

Former Soviet republics concerned with Taleban advance

Russia and Tajikistan agreed Saturday to strengthen security along the border of Tajikstan and Afghanistan, following a summit of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) -- a loose grouping of former Soviet republics -- on Friday.

Four CIS presidents and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin issued a statement Friday condemning what they called the Taleban's "executions and violations of human rights" and stating they would take "adequate measures" to defend themselves if necessary.

But Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov urged publicly that the group back General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former communist general who controls six northern provinces between the Taleban-controlled area and the CIS nations.

Dostum controls the Salang Tunnel, a key pass through the mountains 90 kilometers north of Kabul, on the road into central Asia.

"If this tunnel is surrendered, they will have no obstacle on their way northwards and we don't know how far they may go," Karimov said.

The other leaders at the summit offered no public support for Dostum, but they did call for the U.N. Security Council to meet about the situation in Afghanistan, and said they would begin supplying the northern part of the country with humanitarian aid.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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