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Background: Afghan Battles

November 15, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


KEVIN DUNN: Taliban shells fall on the road to Kunduz, the last northern city to be besieged by forces of the Northern Alliance. Several thousand pro-Taliban fighters, many of them non- Afghan members of al-Qaida, are holding out in the city and threatening to fight to the death. After the reports of killings in Mazar-e Sharif, there are fears of further bloodshed here, too. The prime minister, speaking after talks with the Austrian chancellor, said reports of killings had to be treated with caution.

SPOKESMAN: Let’s be very wary of accepting any reports about so-called atrocities at the moment. We simply don’t know. There are reports, but we simply don’t know. What we do know is that what many people feared, which was an immediate bloodbath if, for example, the Northern Alliance went into Kabul, has not happened. And of course there will still be fighting.

KEVIN DUNN: After the fall of Kabul, both the Northern Alliance and fighters from ethnic Pashtun tribes opposed to their fellow Pashtuns– the Taliban– have made gains. At Kunduz, Northern Alliance troops are poised to mount an offensive. To the East, there are reports that Jalalabad has fallen and the Northern Alliance are in control. Further South, anti-Taliban fighters have taken control of the Paktika and Paktia provinces and parts of Lowgar province. And significantly, there’s been fighting in Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban. Northern Alliance troops are now reported to be in the city. These pictures from Arabic Television appear to show Taliban fighters still in Kandahar. With the situation on the ground confused, U.N. officials are speeding up attempts to form a multiethnic administration.

JIM LEHRER: ITN’s Julian Manyon is with the Northern Alliance troops who entered Kabul two days ago.

JULIAN MANYON: Lights blazing as they were on the night of the Taliban’s departure, this is one of the houses that was used by the Arabs of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization. I went there tonight and found immediate evidence of the link to terrorism, a bulletin in Arabic describing the current condition of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the man who is in prison in the United States for the first attempt to blow up the world trade center in 1993. In this and other houses, still more chilling documents have been found. They include descriptions of early nuclear weapons, like the plutonium bomb that destroyed Nagasaki and references to Risin, a deadly poison. Today the Northern Alliance paraded for us some of the foreigners they say came to Afghanistan in response to bin Laden’s call. These men are Pakistanis who, according to the alliance, were captured in the fighting with weapons in their hands. The prisoners denied it.

SPOKESMAN: No, no guns. No guns, no, no.

JULIAN MANYON: The men claim that they came to Afghanistan to spread the Islamic message, an explanation their interrogators dismiss. The Pakistanis said that they were being well treated, but they looked frightened nonetheless. In the streets of Kabul, looters are now being arrested by the Northern Alliance, as it seeks to assert its authority. These men were accused of stealing food from a U.N. warehouse. The soldiers went to a nearby house and made the owner dig up his yard to see if he had hidden some of the stolen food there. But the change of power is bringing some normality to a city that, for five years, has lived under a religious tyranny. Satellite dishes are suddenly on sale, and CD’s and videocassettes with pictures of unveiled women are appearing in the shops. But the war is still there, with all its tragedies. This evening, a minibus packed with civilians hit a mine just outside Kabul. At least six people, perhaps more, died. And tonight, local authorities are appealing once again for international help to clear the mines.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the release of the foreign aid workers. And to ITN’s Ian Williams in Islamabad, Pakistan.

IAN WILLIAMS: Relishing freedom after three months in captivity, the eight foreign aid workers arrived in Islamabad early this morning, having been plucked out of the Afghan desert by American Special Forces. They’d been taken from Kabul by the retreating Taliban, traveling to a grim town 50 miles to the South.

SPOKESMAN: They stopped in the middle of the night, at 1:00, and put us all into a steel container. And it was terrible cold and they wanted to lock the container and leave us in there till the morning. And we were freezing the whole night through, and then the next morning they took us to a jail in Kasnid. It was a terrible place. It was the worst prison. We have been in five prisons.

IAN WILLIAMS: On Tuesday, fighting erupted all around them.

SPOKESMAN: And at 10 10:00 was the uprising and at 11:00, the Masud people came and others from the alliance there and broke into the prison and just opened the doors, and we were actually afraid that the Taliban are coming and taking us and taking us to Kandahar. We were really scared.

IAN WILLIAMS: But those soldiers told them they were free, and word was sent by a local commander to the Americans via the Red Cross.

SPOKESPERSON: What’s your feeling?

WOMAN: Great. We feel wonderful. We’re so excited that we’re free. Thank you.

IAN WILLIAMS: The aid workers were from the German organization shelter now: Four were German, two Australian, and two American. The Taliban had accused them of spreading Christianity, punishable by death, and had put them on trial in Kabul. For security reasons, there’s been little detail of the American operation, nor the 24 hours it took to organize. The area was in chaos and it may have involved contacts with the Taliban.

SPOKESMAN: It was not Northern Alliance commander. It was Taliban commander who informed ICIC and ICIC informed America.

IAN WILLIAMS: Whoever made the call, the Taliban claims may be connected to another initiative. Sources here say Taliban officials are seeking Red Cross and U.N. help in negotiating the safe passage of 20,000 of their fighters trapped in the northern city of Kunduz. On Pakistan’s southern border with Afghanistan, Pakistani officials are increasingly alarmed at the prospect of Taliban fighters retreating across porous crossings. There have been unconfirmed reports of Pakistani soldiers and tanks moving towards the frontier. Officials concede they are beefing up security.