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MARGARET WARNER: Now, an update on the confusing Afghan battlefront in and around the city of Kunduz. It’s the last northern enclave still controlled by the Taliban, but it’s been under siege by the Northern Alliance for more than a week. Last night, a group of Taliban fighters left Kunduz, and traveled to the Northern Alliance controlled city of Mazar-e Sharif for surrender talks with Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The general told reporters afterwards that the Taliban had agreed to surrender, but this morning there was renewed fighting in Kunduz. We have more from Julian Rush of Independent Television News.
JULIAN RUSH, ITN: The end game in the battle for Kunduz has begun. (Rockets launching) No one’s quite sure who fired first. Afghan Taliban forces besieged in the city had agreed to surrender. Indeed, some have. The Northern Alliance blames a communications mix-up. They say Taliban who didn’t know of the deal tried to stop 200 of their fighters surrendering who did know.
ABDULAZIZ FAYAZ, Northern Alliance Artillery Commander (Translated): “Foreign fighters are preventing local Taliban from surrendering and are holding civilians as hostages.” Hundreds of Northern Alliance troops are moving up to the front line. The foreign fighters– mainly Pakistanis with Arabs and Chechens– remain a stumbling block. They may yet decide to stand and fight. Pakistan wants reassurances its citizens won’t be massacred. The U.S. doesn’t want them to escape.
AMB. KENTON KEITH, Spokesman, Coalition Information Bureau: They would be, in our judgment, best detained and disarmed while their future is being sorted out on a negotiated basis.
REPORTER: Right. Um…
AMB. KENTON KEITH: In other words, safe passage back to the countries from which they have come is not something we would like to see.
JULIAN RUSH: Surrender is a confused and haphazard business. These are Afghan Taliban from Kunduz. 200 drove across the front line and surrendered this afternoon, according to Italian television who filmed them. Their relationship with their fellow Afghans seems cordial. Swapping sides, after all, has been a way of life through all the civil wars fought in Afghanistan. The Taliban commanders who had negotiated the surrender left Mazar-e Sharif today to return to Kunduz. The local Uzbek warlord they’d surrendered to suggested they’ll be no bloodbath in Kunduz, saying he has guarantees the foreign Taliban fighters there will surrender, too.
GEN. ABDUL RASHID DOSTUM, Northern Alliance (Translated): Mullah Faizal is the commander in Kunduz. I asked Mullah Faizal what he will do if some foreigners will not surrender. He said they will surrender because they are under his control now.
JULIAN RUSH: And according to another of the Northern Alliance faction leaders around Kunduz, some have already been airlifted out by Pakistan.
GENERAL DAOUD, Regional Commander, Northern Alliance (Translated): I can’t tell you exactly how many there are. In the past few nights, Pakistani planes have been flying out of Kunduz, taking them away. Now, there are fewer of the foreigners.
JULIAN RUSH: The Northern Alliance’s hold on its territory isn’t completely secure. West of Kabul, in Maidan Shahr, their troops skirmished with a pocket of Taliban fighters. The Northern Alliance here claimed the Taliban on the hilltop were foreigners– 600 Arabs and Pakistanis. The road leads to the Taliban’s last stronghold in Kandahar. But by other accounts, this was as much infighting between different anti-Taliban factions who’d switched sides, evidence if it were needed, of the difficulties ahead in forming a broad-based post-Taliban government, and also, of course, evidence of the difficulty of delivering much-needed aid across the country. The first aid plane landed today at Bagram, north of Kabul, bringing mainly medical supplies. Many, many more will be needed if the people of Afghanistan are to survive the winter.