BANGI, Afghanistan -- Taliban commanders agreed Thursday to let northern alliance troops into their last stronghold in northern Afghanistan to oversee a surrender of the besieged city of Kunduz, anti-Taliban officials said.
Alliance fighters, apparently unaware of the breakthrough, launched a chaotic offensive outside Kunduz just as details of the agreement emerged. Fighters attacked Taliban positions east of Kunduz with rocket launchers, artillery and tanks. Commanders said they also pushed toward the airport.
In Washington, Marine Lt. Col. Dave LaPan, a Pentagon spokes-person, said Thursday that 75 U.S. aircraft struck Taliban military forces, tunnels and caves over the previous 24 hours, concentrating on the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in the south and the Jalalabad area in the east.
Under the purported deal for the surrender of Kunduz, reached during negotiations in the alliance-held city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghan fighters would be allowed to leave city, the alliance said.
Arabs, Pakistanis and other foreign fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden would be placed in camps until the alliance and the U.S.-led coalition can decide what to do with them, alliance officials in Tajikistan said. The United States has insisted that suspected al-Qaida members not be allowed to go free as part of any deal.
Alliance spokesman Ashraf Nadeem said the alliance would send 5,000 fighters to Kunduz ''possibly Saturday'' to oversee the Taliban surrender. Both sides agreed to meet Friday in Mazar-e-Sharif to finalize details, Nadeem said.
The Taliban representatives, including Deputy Defense Minister Mullah Fazil Muslimyar, returned to Kunduz late Thursday to explain the deal to the foreigners.
Alliance fighters said they feared the foreign fighters -- thought to number up to 3,000 -- might try to break out of the city and escape to Uzbekistan or Pakistan rather than accept surrender.
The issue of the foreign fighters had been the main stumbling block to an agreement to surrender the city, which the Taliban militia held on to after their control of the north collapsed following the loss of Mazar-e-Sharif on Nov. 9. The foreigners feared a repeat of the summary executions that followed the alliance's takeover of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul.
In Geneva, the international Red Cross said Thursday it had recovered 400 to 600 bodies in Mazar-e-Sharif but would not say whether they were killed in fighting or executed.
A senior alliance commander, Atta Mohammed, said he assured the Taliban that none of their troops would be mistreated.
A spokesman for the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan, Shamsul-khak Orienfard, said the foreigners would be placed in ''filtration camps'' and ''their fate will be decided by the legal government of Afghanistan and countries of the international anti-terrorism coalition.''
Reports of massacres of Pakistanis and other foreign fighters have raised alarm in Pakistan, a key Muslim ally in the anti-terrorism campaign.
Although Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf supports the campaign, the government believes it cannot remain silent while its own citizens are massacred even if it opposes their cause.
On Thursday, Musharraf urged the visiting president of the International Committee of the Red Cross to help prevent massacres. However, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said his organization was unable to make safety guarantees.
''It cannot get involved in political negotiations on conditions of a surrender,'' Kellenberger said in Islamabad.
President Bush launched the campaign against the Taliban in early October for their refusal to hand over bin Laden.
After weeks of U.S. bombing against Taliban positions, a northern alliance advance swept the Islamic militia out of almost all the north and took Kabul, the capital, on Nov. 13.
A surrender in Kunduz would leave only one major city -- the southern base of Kandahar -- in Taliban hands. Taliban spokesman Syed Tayyab Agha vowed that the Taliban would fight to defend Kandahar, their spiritual base, and the surrounding provinces they still control.
During the late afternoon attack outside Kunduz, several groups of Taliban fighters appeared to be giving themselves up. One group of Taliban fighters surrendered with trucks, an anti-aircraft gun and rockets. Two higher-ranking Taliban commanders accompanied the defectors.
As tanks fired on Taliban positions in the hills, a northern alliance commander radioed over the two-way: ''Make the Arabs prisoners! Make the Arabs prisoners!''
U.S. B-52 bombers flew overhead but dropped only a few bombs.
Before the surrender agreement was announced, Taliban fighters shelled the main road leading eastward out of Kunduz, sending refugees streaming from the city by foot, donkey and car.
Terrified civilians dashed for cover. The head-to-toe white shrouds worn by women flapped as the shells crashed around them.
One group of women, confused, dived into a ditch exposed to the incoming mortar fire, their fingers tearing desperately at the dirt.
''The United States is bombing, and the people are escaping,'' said refugee Mahmedi, breathless and too much in a hurry to stop to talk. ''The city is empty.''
Refugees said they were escaping both the anger of foreign fighters trapped in the city and the U.S. bombs.
As the sun began to set, alliance tanks and armored personnel carriers with waving, smiling troops giving the thumbs up headed across the front line, and reinforcements arrived in trucks, tanks and on foot to back them up.
Fighters launched one push toward the airport, but halted the attack when Taliban fighters there radioed that they wanted to give up, said Shah Jan, an aide to alliance commander Gen. Mohammed Daoud.
In other developments Thursday:
n The United States continued to drop food and blankets and publicize reward money of up to $25 million, offered for information leading to the capture of bin Laden.
n Efforts continued to arrange power-sharing talks for a post-Taliban government next week in Bonn, Germany.
Afghanistan's exiled former monarch will send two women and six others reflecting the country's varied ethnic makeup to the talks, the king's grandson said.
n British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw traveled to Tehran, Iran, where he met with the chief foreign representative of the northern alliance and with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi.
Straw and Kharrazi agreed on the need for a broad-based government to replace the Taliban, but Kharrazi criticized the British military presence in Afghanistan.
n The Taliban's isolation grew further when Pakistan closed the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad, the last Taliban post outside the country.
''We are delighted to know that Pakistan is severing diplomatic relations with the Taliban,'' coalition spokesman Kenton Keith said in Islamabad.
Charles Josselin, a top French foreign ministry official, said in Uzbekistan that he expected 50 French servicemen to be sent from there to Mazar-e-Sharif to secure the local airport.
Poland agreed to contribute as many as 300 soldiers, including some from an elite commando unit, to support the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan.
France has sent a diplomatic representative back to Kabul to take up renewed permanent residence in Afghanistan.
While the Taliban were in power, France's diplomatic mission for Afghanistan worked from Pakistan.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.