Bin Laden supporters still fighting

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2001

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan -- Northern alliance troops aided by U.S. special forces fought a pitched battle in a sprawling mud-walled fortress for a second day Monday with captured loyalists of Osama bin Laden. Five Americans were wounded by a stray U.S. bomb.

Sounds of fighting could be heard all night from the direction of the fortress, and early Tuesday an enormous blast shook windows in Mazar-e-Sharif, 10 miles away. Planes circled overhead.

U.S. Marines went into action in southern Afghanistan, sending helicopter gunships aloft as Navy F-14 Tomcat jets attacked an armored convoy. It was the Marines' first known action since establishing a foothold Monday near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Fifteen vehicles in the column were destroyed, Capt. David Romley told reporters.

President Bush warned Americans to be prepared for U.S. casualties. Speaking in Washington, he said the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan was ''just the beginning'' of the fight against terrorism, and he warned Iraq and North Korea there would be consequences for producing weapons of mass destruction.

In the north, prisoners captured by the alliance last weekend in the siege of Kunduz rained rocket-propelled grenades and mortars on alliance troops trying to suppress the uprising.

Hundreds of Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and other non-Afghans fighting with the Taliban were brought to the fortress here as part of the weekend surrender of Kunduz, the Islamic militia's last stronghold in the north.

Once inside the fortress Sunday, the prisoners stormed the armory and were still resisting the next day despite U.S. airstrikes and attacks by alliance forces.

One CIA operative was missing in the uprising, according to a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity.

American special forces troops called in an airstrike but a U.S. JDAM smart bomb went astray, exploding near the Americans. Five U.S. soldiers suffered serious wounds and were evacuated to nearby Uzbekistan, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington. Their identities were not released.

Alliance officers said about 40 of their troops had died in the uprising along with hundreds of resisters. Alliance commanders said the holdouts, trapped in a tower, were running out of ammunition and wouldn't last long.

''Those who are left over will be dead,'' said Alim Razim, an aide to alliance Gen. Rashid Dostum. ''None of them can escape.''

In other developments:

n Britain took several thousand troops off 48-hour alert, citing an improving situation on the ground in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon also confirmed that four British soldiers had been injured in operations with U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He said one of the soldiers had been wounded more seriously than the others, but declined to comment further. He said all were being treated in Britain.

n Police detained 14 people in Belgium and France in connection with the September slaying of Ahmed Shah Massood, military leader of Afghanistan's northern alliance. The suspects are believed connected to a group that gave false Belgian ID papers to members of bin Laden's terrorist network.

n A Vatican delegation met with former Afghan king Mohammad Zaher Shah on the eve of talks to determine the war-ravaged country's political future. Afghan faction representatives are to meet near Bonn on Tuesday in hopes of forming a transitional administration and a security force to police Afghanistan now that the Taliban has all but collapsed.

-- Helped by U.S. and northern alliance troops, 12 Russian transport planes arrived in Kabul carrying aid crews, President Vladimir Putin said. The Russian Foreign Ministry said experts arrived to defuse land mines on the road leading to a planned Russian aid center.

Under terms of the Kunduz surrender, foreign fighters were to be imprisoned here pending an investigation into their links with bin Laden, alleged architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Thousands of Afghan Taliban fighters who gave up were allowed safe passage out of Kunduz. However, some Afghan fighters remained behind and fired on alliance troops who entered the city Monday after the two-week siege.

After an hours-long battle with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, alliance forces crushed the last of the resistance, killing about 100 Taliban and suffering 10 dead, alliance officers said.

Alliance troops then sought vengeance on the holdouts, roaming through the dust-covered streets. Reporters watched as alliance soldiers blasted away at wounded Taliban and dragged those who hid out of their houses for beatings.

Alliance fighters beat one overweight Taliban fighter with rifle butts and stomped on his face, throwing him into a truck bound for a detention center only when he fell unconscious.

Three other fly-covered Taliban bodies lay in empty market stalls. Their big toes had been tied together with cords. Residents said the northern alliance had captured the wounded men in fighting Sunday, then shot them Monday.

Alliance soldiers also made off with loot, especially cars they said belonged to Taliban fighters. One man used rope to string four cars together, not content with stealing one.

Since the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif on Nov. 9, Taliban control has collapsed in Kabul and most of the country.

The Taliban's days in Kandahar appeared numbered with the arrival Sunday night of U.S. Marines, who seized an airstrip west of the city without resistance and established a forward base for operations against bin Laden and what was left of the Taliban leadership.

The Marines' commander, Gen. James Mattis, said more than 1,000 troops would be on the ground within 48 hours in striking distance of Kandahar, the last city under Taliban control.

Much of the north is dominated by ethnic and cultural minorities, but the south is the home ground of the Taliban's fellow ethnic Pashtuns, and the militia would fight to the death, a spokesman, Mullah Abdullah, told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.

He said Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was still in Kandahar and in command of his troops.

Kandahar appeared largely deserted Monday, except for pickup trucks of Taliban soldiers armed with rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs, according to residents contacted by phone.

With U.S. forces on the ground in the south, Pashtun tribal leaders urged the Taliban to abandon Kandahar and other towns to spare them from American attack.

One Pashtun tribal official in Pakistan, Abdul Jabbar, said the Taliban wanted to leave the border town of Spinboldak but bin Laden lieutenants were resisting.

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