Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Many Taliban and Allies Holding Out at Last Northern Stronghold

Many Taliban and Allies Holding Out at Last Northern Stronghold

Author: Dexter Filkins with Carlotta Gall
Publication: The New York Times
Date: November 25, 2001

Amirabad, Afghanistan, Nov. 24 - Hundreds of Taliban soldiers streamed out of the besieged northern city of Kunduz today, some to the welcoming arms of joyous crowds, others to the custody of their adversaries, each group following a script of surrender that culminated a two- week standoff in one of the last Taliban strongholds.

Even as the Taliban poured out of Kunduz to give themselves up, American jets bombed the city, as if to warn the soldiers of their fate should they change their minds. Northern Alliance tanks stood on the hills overlooking the surrender routes.

The estimated 700 Taliban soldiers who surrendered today made up nearly a quarter of the Taliban garrison, if Pentagon calculations are correct. As a result, it was still unclear if the potential blood bath feared on both sides had been avoided.

Northern Alliance leaders say they believe that there are thousands more inside Kunduz and that they expect to fight them to capture the city.

At the same time, several Taliban soldiers said today that many Pakistani and other foreign troops had been evacuated in recent days by Pakistani Air Force planes landing and leaving at night. In Washington, Pentagon spokesman said today that they had no information indicating that such flights had gone to and from Kunduz. The military has been conducting surveillance of the Afghan airspace.

With Northern Alliance generals looking on today, Taliban soldiers surrendered at two separate locations outside the city. They looked as fierce as ever in their black or white turbans, and their beards and long hair, but they had filed out of the city at the appointed time, just as they had been told to do.

At the mud-brick village of Amirabad, about 300 Afghan Taliban soldiers came rumbling across the front lines, crammed into their signature Toyota pickup trucks still smeared with mud to camouflage them from American jets. They found Northern Alliance troop waiting to greet them. The two groups, enemies only hours before, embraced, shook hands and, in some cases, found old friends.

In the desert west of Kunduz, a group of nearly 400 Taliban soldiers, nearly all from foreign lands, turned themselves over to Gen. Rashid Dostum, the longtime Uzbek warlord, in a more sober scene. The men, many barely literate graduates of the radical Islamic schools of northwestern Pakistan, waited all night in a desert field before turning over their guns.

Watched by Army Rangers, they filed into trucks and were carted off to the ancient fort at Qala Jangi, where they face questioning to determine if they had any links with terrorists. Most were Pakistanis, but alliance officials said that Arabs and Chechens were among them.

"We surrendered so no more blood would be shed, our own blood," said Mehrabuddin, a 21-year-old Taliban soldier, cradling his Kalashnikov as he sat in the bed of a pickup. "All the Taliban are running away."

The surrender today fulfilled the first part of an agreement intended to end the 12-day-old siege without a fight. For days, American warplanes have pounded Kunduz as Northern Alliance leaders tried to persuade Taliban leaders that their defense of the city was futile.

For all the day's drama, the surrender appeared to go off without a hitch. Not only did the Taliban troops hand over their weapons, but they also gave up their trucks, tanks and rocket launchers.

At Amirabad, the surrendering Taliban drove into the nearby city of Taliqan waving to the Northern Alliance soldiers who lined the road to greet them. Under the amnesty declared by the alliance, Taliban soldiers who are Afghan will be allowed to go home.

The peaceful hand-over of the foreign troops in the desert was perhaps the most surprising of all. Refugees coming over the border in recent days reported that foreign Taliban soldiers had seized control of Kunduz and were preparing for a fight to the death. But the scene of their surrender was hardly tumultuous. The young foreigners waited passively to be taken away.

General Dostum said today that he intended to hand over the men to international courts, but it was unclear if his view would hold against others who want to put them on trial.

In recent days, the Pakistani government has pushed hard to evacuate the men, and some Northern Alliance officials spoke of the possibility that they might be sent back to the countries they came from.

"We will check how many are from Pakistan, Chechnya, Iran and so on and we will hand them all to the U.N.," General Dostum said.

Northern Alliance leaders said they were hoping that the rest of the Taliban garrison trapped in Kunduz would surrender in the coming days as easily as the Taliban troops did today.

The Taliban soldiers who surrendered at Amirabad came from the spot closest to the Taliban front line. Northern Alliance leaders said they would peel off the layers of the Taliban troops until they reached the interior of the city.

Yet there were signs that the next few days might not unfold so smoothly. Several Taliban soldiers who surrendered today said they had left behind comrades who were preparing to make a last stand.

The Taliban soldiers who gave themselves up at Amirabad took a circuitous route across the no man's land that separates the front lines, afraid that the Taliban soldiers still holding on would shoot them as they drove away. Indeed, by midafternoon, machine-gun fire and rockets began flying out of Chugha, a front- line village controlled by the Taliban. Surrendering Taliban soldiers said the village contained a large group of Pakistani soldiers.

Refugees walking out of Kunduz today described a city in turmoil, with foreign soldiers trying to disguise themselves as Taliban or Northern Alliance soldiers. Others said the foreign soldiers were gathering guns and ammunition and preparing for a fight.

"The foreigners will never be taken alive," said Mullah Fakhruddin, a Taliban soldier who surrendered at Amirabad. "In Kunduz these days, the foreigners are looking crazy."

On the western side of the city, the 400 Taliban soldiers arrived in the middle of the night, stopping just six miles from Mazar-i-Sharif in a lonely desert field. There they sat, watched by alliance guards, waiting for their conquerors to take their guns.

Hours later, trucks filled with prisoners began to move toward the city. The men inside had wrapped themselves in blankets and tried to hide their faces. Those whose faces were visible looked sullen and stunned. Some 20 American military men, M- 16's across their backs, looked on.

General Dostum, in camouflage fatigues, made a brief appearance and then announced that he was heading toward Kunduz.

At dusk, three foreign fighters, identified as Chechens, were reported killed when one detonated a grenade as he waited to be jailed near Mazar-i-Sharif. The blast also reportedly killed the Northern Alliance police chief there.

At Amirabad, the surrender was almost festive. It began with the arrival of Mullah Abdullah, a local Taliban chieftain, who stepped out of his Toyota Hilux and embraced Daoud Khan, the alliance general in command of the forces on the eastern side of Kunduz. Then, repeating a scene that has unfolded in recent surrenders, Mr. Abdullah and his men walked among their former enemies, hugging and holding hands.

"Hi, how have you been?" a Northern Alliance soldier said to Mullah Gulmir, 27, a Taliban tank driver as the two men embraced.

"Fine, thanks, and you?" Mr. Gulmir responded.

Like many of the soldiers who surrendered, Mr. Gulmir said he had joined the Taliban out of convenience. He first become a soldier in 1992, he said, after the mujahedeen captured Kabul from the Communists. When the Taliban threw out the mujahedeen in 1996, he joined them.

"I joined the Taliban because they were stronger," Mr. Gulmir said. "I'm joining the Northern Alliance because they are stronger now."

As Taliban and Northern Alliance troops embraced, Rosmohammed Uria, the alliance general who presided over the surrender, smiled. "Yesterday, my enemy," the general said, "Today, my brother."

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