Northern Alliance Clash with Taliban Near Afghan Capital
Fierce fighting erupted Thursday between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban militia close to the Afghan capital, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
Eleven Northern Alliance tanks, backed by artillery and rocket fire, spearheaded an assault on Taliban hill positions about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Kabul, but were beaten back.
Commanders with the alliance, which now controls Kabul, said the battle against an estimated 600 Taliban troops, including 300 Arabs and Pakistanis, lasted about five hours.
They said their forces attacked northwestward but had to retreat when the Taliban responded with a flanking maneuver from the southwest.
"We retreated because the Taliban opened another front," said Hodji Sher Alam, a senior Northern Alliance commander. "They attacked us from another direction, so we retreated."
The alliance captured Kabul on November 13 after weeks of heavy US bombing had destroyed the Taliban's front lines to the north.
But despite the Islamic militia's general retreat into its southern heartland, rogue Taliban elements are still operating in the provinces around Kabul, including the hills around the village of Maidan Shar.
From a distance of two kilometers (1.2 miles) away the tanks, belonging to the Ittihad-i-Islami mujahedeen forces of ethnic Pashtun commander Abdul Rasul Sayaff, could be seen moving on the hill positions.
They fired repeatedly as Taliban artillery responded with a barrage of shells.
Kholam, an ethnic Tajik commander involved in the attack, said "different groups" were working together "under the orders of the defense ministry of the Northern Alliance."
"When we arrived the Taliban were already here. They have been here since we took Kabul. We have approximately 1,000 men and 20 armored vehicles including tanks," he said.
After an initial advance, around 100 alliance fighters could be seen retreating from a hill which they had earlier captured.
One fighter, Nourellah, explained: "We have lost a commander and four or five of our men have been wounded so we are retreating for the moment."
One US warplane was seen flying overhead in the early stage of the battle and some alliance soldiers said they had withdrawn to wait for a bombing raid before resuming the attack.
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has vowed to wage a protracted guerrilla war with the support of local tribesmen from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group, who are generally opposed to the minority-based Northern Alliance -- MAIDAN SHAR, Afghanistan (AFP)
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