Taliban Troops Agree to Surrender Kunduz as Fight for Kandahar Looms

Published November 22nd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Taliban leaders in the besieged town of Kunduz agreed Wednesday to surrender, but elsewhere militia officials said the fight would continue in Kandahar and other provinces, adding that there was "no communication" with Osama bin Laden or his Al Qaeda network, said reports. 

Potentially averting what was expected to be a major bloodbath, Taliban leaders in Kunduz agreed to surrender after hours of talks with a top Northern Alliance commander, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, reported CNN.  

Kunduz is the last urban center in northern Afghanistan under Taliban control, and has been the focus of heavy fighting in recent days, said the news network, with an intense US bombing campaign in the region.  

During Wednesday's meeting, Taliban Gen. Mullah Faizel, the assistant minister of defense, was quoted by CNN as saying that the militia's fighters in Kunduz - including Chechens, Pakistanis and Arabs - would surrender, depsite earlier pledges to fight to the death.  

"In Kunduz, nothing will happen," he was quoted as saying.  

Details of the surrender - such as how the city will be handed over and the fate of the prisoners of war - are still being negotiated, said CNN.  

Meanwhile, AP reported that American warplanes had targeted the Taliban home base of Kandahar in the south of Afghanistan early Wednesday. 

Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, spokesman for the Pentagon, was quoted by the agency as saying that three-quarters of Afghanistan was under anti-Taliban forces' control. 

The BBC reported on Wednesday that local leaders opposed to the Taliban appeared to be consolidating their grip on various provinces, and were pushing for a national meeting of traditional leaders to determine the country's fate. 

However, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's personal secretary said the Taliban would continue to fight for Islam in Kandahar and the surrounding provinces still under their control, according to CNN, and said they had no communication with suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden or his Al Qaeda network. 

Meanwhile, CNN quoted Pentagon sources as saying that as many as 1,600 US Marines were on standby off the Pakistani coast and could be called in, probably for reconnaissance missions, while more than 4,000 Marines were waiting offshore, 2,000 of them combat-ready.  

The Bush adminstration on Wednesday repeated its determination to locate bin Laden, who is accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks on the US in which thousands of civilians were killed. 

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told CBS News he would prefer bin Laden was killed rather than taken alive. 

Legal experts have said that putting the Saudi dissident on trial would be a nightmare for the Bush administration, given the intricacies of international law and the terrorist leader's long-running ties to the CIA. 

The net also appears to be tightening around bin Laden's followers.  

US forces are on alert for Al Qaeda members who might try to escape from Afghanistan to neighboring countries and then board a ship in the northern Arabian Sea, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. Peter Pace said Wednesday, according to CNN. 

 

DIPLOMATS HEAD FOR BERLIN 

 

Amid the continued breakdown of the Taliban regime, diplomats from around the world prepared for a meeting in Berlin to determine the type of government that will replace the militia, said reports. 

Delegations from four anti-Taliban groupings - including the Northern Alliance, Pashtun tribes from southern Afghanistan and supporters of exiled King Mohammed Zahir Shah - will meet in or near Berlin on Monday for UN -organized talks to map out a plan for an interim government in Afghanistan, said CNN. 

Northern Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani has grudgingly backed off his demand that the conference be held in Kabul, which he controls, according to AP.  

Afghanistan has lacked a central government since the Taliban pulled out of Kabul on Nov. 13, and Rabbani's faction - the alliance's largest - moved in, said the agency, noting that Rabbani was Afghanistan's president until the Taliban ousted him in 1996.  

The US and other countries have promised a quick start to the process of reconstructing Afghanistan, according to the BBC, and aid agencies have called for the UN to organize a multinational force to restore stability there - Albawaba.com

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