TOPICS > Nation

Afghan Battles

November 20, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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VICTORIA MacDONALD: They’d slipped out of Kunduz under cover of darkness, just some of the reported hundreds of Taliban defectors to escape the town in the past few days. Crucially, they are largely local men. Behind them they have left thousands– although the numbers do vary– of foreign Taliban volunteers, who despite today’s three-day decline to surrender, have vowed to fight to the death. This 20-year-old who defected yesterday, said that he wasn’t optimistic that the foreign Taliban will surrender. He said they want to fight, but that the local Afghans are keen to give up. As the Northern Alliance continued to encircle Kunduz, its commanders also said that it was the foreign fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden who were preventing the Taliban from surrendering.

MOHAMMAD DAUD, Northern Alliance (Translated): If we are not able to convince all of the Taliban prefects, at least we might convince the local people. If the United Nations plays a role as mediator, we will accept that as long as another country is willing to accept the Taliban and the U.N. representative agrees to all of that.

VICTORIA MacDONALD: Northern Alliance proclamations that they want to prevent a bloody showdown have done little to reassure the people of Kunduz. Refugees continue to flee. One report suggested that 370 civilians and Afghan Taliban had been murdered for suggesting they surrender. This man had been visiting relatives when the American planes started bombing.

MAN (Translated): When American planes begin bombing, Taliban fighters leave their positions to hide here and there. They run helter skelter to hide. Then when the bombing is over, they return to their positions.

VICTORIA MacDONALD: The foreign fighters have demanded safe passage to the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, or as refugees to another country. The united front today reiterated their opposition to this, not least because of the real fears of their regrouping.

JIM LEHRER: ITN’s Gaby Rado reports on the latest developments in Kabul, where U.N. diplomats have been meeting with the fighters who took control of the Afghan capital last week.

GABY RADO: Late last night, the senior United Nations mediator, Francesc Vendrell, clinched the first real political breakthrough in the post-Taliban era. He negotiated with– from left to right– the defense minister, the interior minister and the foreign minister of the United Front, also called the Northern Alliance. They agreed to send a delegation to the all-Afghan talks starting in Berlin next Monday.

FRANCESC ENDRELL, U.N. Special Representative: It’s a signal that we are in a completely different era, a different period. And we are very hopeful that this acceptance and that the meeting in Germany will be a first, but very important step towards achieving the dreams and the hopes of all Afghan.

GABY RADO: But it almost immediately became clear that the United Front– the presence of huge security forces in and around Kabul-proved it regards itself as the established power in the land, will only abide by any decisions if they are made in the Afghan capital, not in the German one.

PRESIDENT BURHANUDDIN RABBANI, United Front (Translated): I believe that our country must have peace. For this, the decision making process should be held in Afghanistan. Of course, if it’s not possible for some Afghans to come home, we can find another solution. First consultations may be held somewhere else, but I insist that all the final decisions about the peace process are held inside Afghanistan.

GABY RADO: Though the United Front have given the 100 British Marines who recently arrived at Bagram Airport, a somewhat frosty reception, that attitude to anything foreign isn’t necessarily reflected by ordinary Afghans on the street.

MAN: If the British troops want to settle security and peace in Afghanistan, this is good.

MAN: If they came to help people or if they wanted to help poor people of Afghanistan, they will accept them.

GABY RADO: Even the center of Kabul is a lot less safe than most people realize. In one house hired to an American TV network, there was an unwelcome surprise.

JIM MACEDA, NBC News: We saw a strange, rather tall individual walking around who looked suspiciously Australian– we can tell by his accent– and he said, “Mate, you have a problem here.” I said, “Who are you?” And he replied, “I am with the U.N. bomb team and we understand that there is a bomb in your kitchen pantry” — at which point, I thought that was the funniest thing in the world — walked into the pantry with him. He opened the door and there before us was a Mark 82 500-pound U.S.-made bomb.

GABY RADO: A group of Kabul women today decided to make a political point about their desire to shed their traditional all-enveloping veil, at the same time demanding representation for women on decision making bodies in parliament. “We’re here to insist that we get our rights and our liberties,” says this demonstrator, after five years in which they have been trampled underfoot. The new shape of Afghanistan’s government is far from clear. Dangers loom from the remnants of the old regime, but some people are at least making use of their newly found freedom simply to walk around and speak their minds.