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Taliban Opposition Claims Capture of Herat, Movement Toward Kabul

An official in the Taliban’s Information Ministry said “possibly Herat has collapsed,” although the Iran-based Tehran TV, reporting from Herat, said opposition forces were in full control of the city.

Taliban troops are reportedly fleeing positions north of Kabul and heading southwest toward the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Truckloads of opposition fighters are on their way to the capital, Northern Alliance officials said.

U.S. leaders have asked the Northern Alliance, composed mainly of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, to resist taking Kabul until a broad-based government can be formed to replace the ruling Taliban.

Haron Amin, a Washington-based envoy for the Northern Alliance, said the anti-Taliban group will try to surround Kabul to prevent Taliban leaders from reinforcing or resupplying their troops inside. But, he said, rebel leaders will keep their forces outside the capital.

“We have no intention of going into Kabul,” Amin said. The United Nations must first come up with a plan for dividing power in Afghanistan after the Taliban falls, he said.

Northern Alliance troops met fierce resistance from the Taliban on the eastern side of Kabul, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters, but were able to advance more easily on the western front due to the defection of Taliban commanders and well-coordinated U.S. air strikes.

Abdullah warned that, despite reports of Taliban forces retreating from Kabul, supporters of the ruling regime remain inside the city.

“There has been a significant withdrawal toward Kandahar. … Ministers and high officials have left,” Abdullah said. “But the foreigners, the terrorist groups in Kabul, are making preparations for street-to-street fighting. We do not want to see any more fighting in Kabul. The civilians in Kabul have suffered enough.”

Anticipating an assault on the capital, Taliban officials deployed tanks at major roads leading into the capital, while heavily-armed Taliban fighters are searching vehicles at key intersections.

Assisting the rebel strikes were U.S. jets, which roared over over Kabul and struck the front lines north of the capital. This afternoon, a missile slammed into the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, home to several prominent Taliban officials and foreigners linked to bin Laden.

Continuing rebel advances

Today’s advances come after a spate of Northern Alliance victories in the past few days in the northern cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Taloqan. Alliance forces are now preparing to move on Kunduz, reported to be the only northern city still in Taliban hands.

Kunduz is populated mostly by ethnic Pashtuns, the ethnic group of the Taliban, while the rest of the north is largely Tajik, Uzbek and Shi’ite Muslim.

In Mazar-e-Sharif, there were reports of men lining up outside barber shops to have their Taliban-mandated beards shaved off, and women shedding the head-to-toe burqa the Taliban required them to wear.

It appears the city is still volatile, however. The United Nations said gunmen looted a U.N. food warehouse in, and there were unconfirmed reports of `”summary executions” after the city’s fall.

On Sunday, two French radio journalist and a German magazine reporter were killed when a Northern Alliance convoy they were riding on came under fire. Other reporters who survived the ambush say Taliban fighters attacked the opposition vehicle as it traveled through the northeastern Takhar province.

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