Taliban Capture Key Afghan Town

Published September 6th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia has captured the strategic northeastern opposition bastion of Taloqan after fierce fighting overnight, resistance sources said Wednesday. 

Opposition spokesman Abdullah (eds: one name) said troops loyal to anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Masood had pulled out of the Takhar provincial capital in the early hours of the morning. 

"After two hours of fighting we pulled out. There were some casualties in the course of the fighting," he said, speaking from New York. 

"Anything can happen in fighting," he said, adding that Masood's forces were heading east. 

If the Taliban can hold the city, which has changed hands in the past, it would mark a significant victory in their northeastern campaign to drive Masood from his traditional heartland. 

Most opposition satellite phones at Taloqan were not answered Wednesday morning, although one Masood spokesman in the area, Mohammad Habeel, was able to say the frontlines were now to the east of the city. 

"We have pulled out of the city and we are now about five to six kilometers (three to four miles) to the east," he said, before excusing himself to keep the satellite phone open for his commander. 

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted Taliban sources as saying the Islamic militia had "complete control" of the city and Masood had withdrawn to the east and south.  

Taloqan has been the focus of the Taliban's efforts for the past month and has seen weeks of failed thrusts with men, tanks and heavy artillery, as well as sporadic air attacks. 

The civilian population fled the initial Taliban attacks but returned after the opposition held their ground. Opposition sources have said many residents had fled again to Badakhshan in the east in recent days. 

The town, set on a plain at the northern fringe of the Hindu Kush range, is a key opposition supply route from Tajikistan to Masood's main stronghold in the Panjshir valley, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Kabul. 

Taliban spearheads converged on Taloqan from the northwest and south, where the fundamentalist militia captured Nahreen and Burka in Baghlan province as well as Ishkamish in Takhar in late July and August. 

Fighting in various parts of the country has raged sporadically since July 1st despite United Nations' warnings to the warring factions, but particularly the Taliban, to find a negotiated settlement. 

The Taliban religious movement, which routed ex-defence minister Masood from Kabul in 1996, controls most of the country, except for areas in the rugged northeast and the Panjshir. 

The militia enforces a puritanical version of Islamic and Pashtun tribal law which has been internationally condemned, especially in regard to its harsh treatment of women. 

Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Taliban regime. 

Masood, an ethnic Tajik known as the "Lion of the Panjshir" for his resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, is the Taliban's last known obstacle to total control of the country -- KABUL (AFP) 



© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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