Alliance Moves Toward Kunduz; Taliban Leader Defiant
Members of the Northern Alliance have said they are readying themselves to enter the city and battle the Taliban for control.
“We have decided to move into the city,” a senior Northern Alliance commander, Daoud Khan, said today. “If they want to surrender, they can do so. If they resist, they will be killed.”
The showdown will likely be the last major confrontation between the Northern Alliance and Taliban members in the north, but it was unclear when an attack would be mounted.
Secretary Rumsfeld described the fighting as “fierce.”
There are reportedly 2,000 to 3,000 foreign supporters of Osama bin Ladin who are also fighting with the Taliban.
Northern Alliance leaders have said they want to jail and possibly execute the foreigners who they say are committing atrocities against Afghan people.
“These foreigners have killed thousands of civilians,” said Pir Mohammed a senior Alliance commander. “Their hands are covered with the blood of our people. We will avenge this.”
In the past six days, the Northern Alliance has taken control of several key cities in Afghanistan including the capital, Kabul.
General Tommy Franks, commander of the force operating in Afghanistan, said today that recent progress in Northern Afghanistan has meant the U.S. is ready to increase airstrikes and begin more extensive use of special forces.
“It’s been said we are tightening the noose and that, in fact, is the case,” Franks said. “We are tightening the noose. It’s a matter of time.”
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said advances placed opposition forces in control of 50 to 60 percent of Afghanistan as of today.
Pentagon officials are hesitant to declare the Taliban retreat a victory. Military intelligence say they will not rule out Taliban forces were acting on orders to fall back and regroup.
The swift but disorderly retreat of the Taliban from the north is complicating the U.S. bombing campaign. Military officials acknowledge pilots are often unable to distinguish between Taliban troops and civilians, forcing warplanes to return to bases without having dropped bombs.
In the south, signs of instability within Taliban ranks. Armed Pashtuns, the main ethnicity of the Taliban, have begun to fight their former allies. The administration has long sought such a shift to speed the destruction of the Taliban.
Taliban leader vows U.S. destruction
Despite the retreat and loss of control of the north, Taliban Supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar vowed revenge.
“The real matter is the extinction of America, and God willing, it will fall to the ground,” he said.
Omar called the Taliban pullback from urban centers part of a larger strategy.
“The current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause – that is the destruction of America. If God’s help is with us, this will happen within a short period of time,” the Taliban leader said.