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Foes Claim Taliban Are Killing Soldiers Who Seek to Defect

Foes Claim Taliban Are Killing Soldiers Who Seek to Defect

Author: Dexter Filkins
Publication: The New York Times
Date: November 19, 2001

Foreign soldiers fighting for the Taliban have begun killing their Afghan Taliban comrades in a desperate effort to hang on to the encircled city of Kunduz, refugees and Northern Alliance soldiers here say.

Foreign Taliban soldiers, who have gathered in Kunduz for what appears to be a last stand, have gunned down more than 400 Afghan Taliban soldiers trying to defect to the Northern Alliance, the refugees and the alliance soldiers said.

The 400 were killed in mass shootings late last week, refugees said, and were prompted in part by the defection of a local Taliban commander to the Northern Alliance.

According to the reports, Arab and Pakistani soldiers with the Taliban have also begun shooting young civilian men of the Uzbek and Tajik ethnic groups suspected of trying to escape to territory controlled by the Northern Alliance. "The foreigners came into the village and shot all the men," said Muhammadullah, a 21- year-old man who crossed into Northern Alliance territory today. "I saw this with my own eyes."

Refugees fleeing Kunduz, which has been surrounded by Northern Alliance forces since last week, said foreign Taliban soldiers had executed more than 30 Uzbeks and Tajiks in incidents last week.

The reports, which are trickling in as refugees cross the front lines from Kunduz, are sketchy and often secondhand, but they are largely consistent about the date, location and circumstances of the alleged attacks. In the chaos of the fighting, none of the accounts could be confirmed. Even if the Taliban carried out some of the killings, it is unclear whether the killers were foreign or Afghan.

Mr. Muhammadullah said he had seen foreign Taliban soldiers gun down 25 men in his village, Mullahkarim, on Friday. "Before they fired," he said, "they were speaking a language I did not understand."

Gen. Daoud Khan, the commander of the Northern Alliance forces here, said today that his men had received nearly identical reports. The general's account essentially matched the reports from the refugees, although General Khan estimated that the number of Afghan Taliban killed by foreign fighters was about 125, not more than 400.

"The Taliban is breaking apart," General Khan said in an interview at his headquarters in Taliqan, about 30 miles from Kunduz. They are killing each other. The Arabs and Pakistanis have decided that the Afghans are not pure enough for them, and so they are killing them."

The allegations of mass killings follow reports that thousands of foreign Taliban soldiers have seized control of Kunduz from local Taliban authorities.

Refugees fleeing the city said the foreign fighters were occupying the major military and government posts in the city and had grown so distrustful of local Taliban soldiers that they had blocked their access to many buildings and areas, including the front lines.

The refugees said the foreign fighters, whom they described as Pakistanis, Arabs, Chinese and Chechens, were vowing in speeches to fight to the death.

The foreigners often travel with translators, the refugees said, and have beaten and arrested hundreds of Kunduz residents in the last week.

Northern Alliance commanders estimate that 20,000 Taliban troops, about a third of them foreigners, are trapped in Kunduz. Pentagon officials say the number of Taliban troops in Kunduz is probably closer to 3,000. Either estimate would make the garrison in Kunduz one of the largest concentrations of Taliban fighters left in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance says it has blocked every escape route.

The reports of the killings coincided with an intensifying campaign to encircle Kunduz on the ground and bomb it from the air. American B- 52's and fighter-bombers pummeled targets today in their heaviest strikes yet. Northern Alliance fighters began inching forward, capturing the abandoned hamlet of Amirabad just inside the no man's land between the lines.

As they prepare to mount an offensive on Kunduz, Northern Alliance leaders are trying to persuade local Taliban commanders in Kunduz to defect. So far, one has agreed to change sides. It is the Taliban's fear of more such defectors that appears to have prompted them to kill their own troops.

In the first of the reported killings, foreign Taliban soldiers gunned down as many as 300 local Taliban who were preparing to defect, several refugees said who arrived here today. The refugees and the Northern Alliance leaders said the killings had occurred before sunrise on Friday in the village of Alchin, a front- line hamlet about three miles north of Kunduz.

According to the accounts, the slain troops belonged to a commander named Nizamuddin, a Pashtun from Kandahar. An overwhelming majority of the Taliban troops are Pashtuns, so a defection by commander of that ethnic group with his men could provoke particular anger among hard-line Taliban leaders.

The refugees and Northern Alliance leaders said the foreign Taliban fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a truck carrying fleeing Afghan Taliban as it neared the front line. Then, the refugees said, the foreign Taliban sprayed the remaining group with machine-gun fire. Although the refugees said the number killed totaled about 300, Northern Alliance officials put the number at about 70.

Lal Muhammad, 36, an Uzbek refugee, said he was preparing to sleep on the floor of a restaurant in Kunduz on Saturday night when a group of villagers from Alchin arrived to tell the story.

"They told us that the foreigners surrounded the locals and killed them," Mr. Muhammad said. "The foreigners are terrified that the local Taliban will defect to the Northern Alliance."

Foreign Taliban soldiers also killed dozens of Afghan Taliban soldiers on Friday at the village of Musazai near the Kunduz airport, refugees and Northern Alliance soldiers said. Refugees fleeing Kunduz said foreign Taliban soldiers had gunned down 125 Afghan Taliban soldiers who had been stopped on their way to the front lines.

The foreign Taliban soldiers seem to have decided that the local Taliban were trying to defect. When they tried to stop them, a fight began and the foreign Taliban opened fire, the refugees said.

The reported killings at Musazai occurred just after the Northern Alliance announced the defection of Mirza Muhammad Nasri, a prominent Taliban commander.

Refugees and Northern Alliance officials say Mr. Nasri's son-in-law, Noor Aga, was the commander of those killed at Musazai.

Abdul Satar, 20, who crossed the front lines today, said he was in the Musazai neighborhood the day of the reported killings, and he said he had seen men carrying bodies away in trucks. "They told me the Punjabis killed them," Mr. Satar said, referring to people who come from a province of Pakistan.

Refugees also reported that foreign Taliban soldiers had recently carried out two mass shootings of Uzbek and Tajik civilians. In the village of Mullahkarim, foreign Taliban soldiers are said to have executed 25 Tajik men on Friday, when foreign Taliban soldiers feared that the men were going to sneak across the front lines to fight for the other side.

Mr. Muhammadullah said he could hear the attackers speaking in unfamiliar languages before they fired on the villagers.

"Everyone in the village is afraid of the foreigners," he said. "They all want to embrace the Northern Alliance."

Another reported mass shooting unfolded at the village of Actosh when foreign Taliban soldiers allegedly gunned down seven young Uzbek men suspected of preparing to fight for the Northern Alliance.

Nasir Muhammad, an Uzbek who fled Kunduz today, said he had heard the story from his brother-in-law, Abdullah, who lives in the village. Mr. Muhammad said he had left Kunduz to save himself and his family from the carnage he thought was still coming.

"The foreign fighters are afraid of the locals," Mr. Muhammad said. "They know the people hate them."

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