Update: War in Afghanistan
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KEVIN DUNN: Anti-Taliban forces of the Northern Alliance have made sweeping advances across Afghanistan. In just 72 hours, they appear to have taken control of as much as 40% of the country. Backed by American air power and guided on the ground by American and British Special Forces, the opposition troops have swept across lines where, for months, there was military stalemate. The forces of the Taliban appear to have pulled back deliberately to reorganize their defenses.
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Northern Alliance Foreign Minister: We started our operation on the front line north of Kabul around 11:30 in the morning today, and we have made advance as far as 15 kilometers towards Kabul.
KEVIN DUNN: The Northern Alliance advance, once it got underway, was swift and incisive. On Friday, Mazar-e Sharif fell into their hands. In the last 36 hours, the Alliance have taken Taloqan, their former headquarters; Pul-Khmri, an important town on the road to Kabul; Bamiyan, in the center of the country; and to the west, Qala-i-Nau. And today they may have taken Herat. So the map of Afghanistan now looks like this. The north of the country is increasingly under Alliance control — the way now open for a push to the capital, Kabul. But southern Afghanistan, and the stronghold of Kandahar, is still in Taliban hands. Pictures from Abu Dhabi Television show antiaircraft fire directed at American warplanes over Kabul. But pentagon officials say Taliban resistance is very light. And there are reports of dozens of Taliban vehicles leaving the capital for the Southwest. The Arabic television also showed pictures of what it said were victims of the latest bombing raids. It is not clear if some of the injured are combatants. Aid agencies across the border in Uzbekistan hope the changing military landscape will allow them to use river barges to send in thousands of tons of food.
MICHAEL HUGGINS, World Food Program: We’re still waiting for security clearance to find out if the other side is secure. If that’s the case, then the barges will be going as soon as possible. There is a great, urgent need for food inside northern Afghanistan, and this food is urgently needed there.
KEVIN DUNN: The agencies plan to start the emergency shipments as soon as the humanitarian corridor into Afghanistan is secure.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a report from Julian Manyon of Independent Television News. He’s covering the Alliance forces moving towards Kabul.
JULIAN MANYON: Tonight, the Northern Alliance is claiming to have broken through the Taliban defenses north of Kabul after a day of heavy fighting. The assault began with truckloads of troops racing forward, and armor the alliance had held in reserve moving towards the front. Next to the main road to Kabul, a dozen tanks and several hundred men were the spearhead of the thrust. All across the Shumali Plain, Alliance troops gathered to take part in the advance. At one position, men argued over whether they would join the attack. In the end, most of them did. The alliance used virtually every weapon in its arsenal, but American air power was still decisive. Several times, U.S. jets hammered key sections of the Taliban defenses. An American B-52 has just added its massive firepower to the Northern Alliance assault on the Taliban.
All morning, the Northern Alliance troops, supported by their own tanks, have been trying to advance, but the Taliban have been firing back. In the last hour, we’ve seen numerous shells fired by the Taliban landing on alliance positions. Taliban fire struck an Alliance command post. At one point, their artillery threatened to bring their attack to a halt. But Northern Alliance shells were hitting the Taliban dug into the mountainside. And in mid afternoon, word came the defenders of two Taliban- held villages had surrendered. In the valley, a key Taliban base at Kalang Azru is still holding out, but the Alliance claim they had broken the enemy’s front and had advanced more than five miles.