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Fear of last stand by foreign fighters hangs over surrender deal

Fear of last stand by foreign fighters hangs over surrender deal

Author:
Publication: The Associated Press
Date: November 24, 2001

Bangi, Afghanistan (AP) Amid fears that foreign fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden could stage a bloody last stand rather than surrender in the northern city of Kunduz, a northern alliance commander said Saturday it was believed Pakistani planes were ferrying out Pakistanis who fought on the Taliban side.

Planes from Pakistan have been landing at the city's half-wrecked airport, most recently Thursday night, said Daoud Khan, an alliance commander interviewed by satellite phone from Takhar province. "We think it was taking Pakistanis out," he said.

In Washington, a spokesman for the U.S. military which controls Afghanistan's airspace said there was nothing to indicate that any evacuation of Pakistani fighters was taking place from Kunduz, the last Taliban stronghold in the north of Afghanistan.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has repeatedly appealed for measures to save Pakistani fighters who joined the Taliban side, fearing they face slaughter if the northern alliance seizes the city.

Alliance troops advanced Friday, seizing an outlying town without a fight. Alliance commanders have said they expected the city to surrender this weekend, but the surrender deal they have repeatedly spoken of has so far failed to show signs of materializing on the ground.

However, Khan said there was no new fighting reported on the Kunduz front lines by midmorning Saturday, and no U.S. bombardment.

"Today is the time to arrange the surrender. So we will see today whether they are 100 percent true when they said they would surrender," he said. "Right now there is no fighting."

An American official in Washington said some of the fighters in the besieged city may be deputies and lieutenants to Osama bin Laden and to the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

At the United Nations, meanwhile, officials announced a one-day delay in a conference in Germany aimed at paving the way for a new Afghan government following the Taliban's collapse. The meeting will open Tuesday, rather than Monday, because of delays in getting all the participants to the venue in Bonn, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

As diplomats worked toward peace, northern alliance commanders were saying that the siege of Kunduz was nearly over.

Commanders of the rigid Islamic militia have agreed to leave the northern city without their weapons in exchange for safe passage guarantees, according to both alliance and Taliban officials. The alliance deal calls for the Taliban to turn over the Arab, Pakistani, Chechen and other foreign fighters, who would be detained pending an investigation into their links to bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

Following a meeting with Taliban representatives in the alliance-held northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, alliance warlord Gen. Rashid Dostum said Friday evening that the surrender "is settled."

"Tomorrow we will have another meeting to work out the details of the handover," he told The Associated Press. "On Sunday, the Taliban should surrender to us and hand over the prisoners."

Khan, the northern alliance commander east of Kunduz, predicted an even quicker resolution, saying his troops would move toward Kunduz on Saturday to disarm the Taliban and arrest the foreigners believed to number up to 3,000, though estimates have varied wildly.

Khan said his troops moved Friday into the Taliban-held town of Aliabad after militia fighters there gave up without a fight. Dostum said his fighters were moving toward Kunduz from the west to enforce the surrender deal.

Fighting was also reported near the town of Khanabad, about 20 miles east of Kunduz, where alliance forces appeared to be probing Taliban positions, said another U.S. official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Taliban governor of Kunduz, whose name, like the Taliban supreme leader, is Mohammed Omar, confirmed late Friday that the garrison was prepared to surrender but said nothing about the fate of the foreigners.

"The Taliban brothers who are from other provinces of Afghanistan, they have a way out," Omar said in a satellite telephone interview with Britain's Channel 4 television. "As a result of the talks with Gen. Dostum, they are allowed to get out of Kunduz peacefully and unarmed."

A Taliban spokesman in Kunduz told the Afghan Islamic Press that dozens of people were killed by American bombs Friday. The report by the private Pakistan-based news agency could not be confirmed.

Taliban negotiators had been demanding safety guarantees for the foreigners after reported massacres committed by the alliance against Arabs and Pakistanis when Mazar-e- Sharif and Kabul fell.

Khan said the foreigners would be tried "in our Islamic courts."

"These foreigners have committed criminal acts in our country. We will not hand them over to the United Nations or any other country," he said.

However, another alliance official, Amanullah, said if the al-Qaida members surrender, "we will kill them all" because "they invaded Afghanistan."

The United States has insisted that suspected al-Qaida members not be allowed to go free as part of any deal. President Bush launched military operations against Afghanistan on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden for his alleged role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

A militant Islamic group in Pakistan, which claims to have sent thousands of Pakistanis to fight alongside the Taliban, threatened to target Afghan refugees in Pakistan if its supporters are executed in Kunduz.

"People are angry and will target Afghan refugees belonging to northern alliance areas if our people are executed or treated unfairly," said Maulvi Mohammed Khalid Khan, a leader of militant Islamic group, Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-e-Mohammedi.

Alliance forces overran the capital city of Kabul and most of the country after intense U.S. bombing broke Taliban defense lines, forcing the militia to retreat into the south where the movement was organized in the early years of the last decade.

On Friday, the U.S. official reported the northern alliance was on the move elsewhere, bringing the battle to the Taliban's southern strongholds.

Advance elements of a northern alliance force have entered Helmand province, one of the last areas of the country still regarded under Taliban control, the official said.

Meanwhile, the alliance was still trying to clear out pockets of Taliban resistance in some areas generally under anti-Taliban control.

About 20 miles south of Kabul, alliance fighters continued an assault on Taliban positions in the rocky, barren hills near the village of Maidan Shahr.
 


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