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Afghanistan: Factions Battle In Mazar-i-Sharif

Islamabad, 10 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Afghanistan's Islamic Taliban militia today fought opposition forces around the northern opposition capital of Mazar-i-Sharif, the last major Afghan city not in Taliban hands.

The mainly Shi'ite Muslim Hizb-i-Wahdat militia said it had driven the Taliban back, recapturing the main airport eight kilometers east of the city and forcing the Taliban to retreat toward Tashqurghan, 50 kilometers away. The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) quoted a Hizb-i-Wahdat spokesman in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar as saying that fighting was going on in the afternoon near Tashqurghan.

Aid workers in Mazar-i-Sharif said heavy fighting has erupted to the south and east, where commanders supporting the opposition militia have linked up with Taliban forces. Reports that the Taliban had entered the city could not be immediately confirmed.

But other independent sources reported heavy incoming tank and rocket fire. The Taliban has occupied about two-thirds of the country since seizing the capital Kabul last September.