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Afghanistan: Northern Alliance Shows Taliban Supporters No Mercy

  • Bruce Pannier

The positive news about Northern Alliance military gains in Afghanistan is being undercut in part by reports of atrocities committed against foreigners fighting alongside the Taliban. While many claims cannot yet be confirmed, there are enough reports to raise concern.

Prague, 14 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Many are cheering the military advances of the Northern Alliance in recent days in their campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Backed by the bombing of a U.S.-led coalition, the Northern Alliance has ousted the militia from several provinces in the north and the east of the country, including the capital city, Kabul.

But many onlookers, including human rights organizations operating in the country, are worried about the growing number of reports of unnecessary killings and summary executions of Taliban soldiers, particularly of non-Afghan soldiers fighting among the Taliban's ranks.

Reports of atrocities first emerged on 9 November, after troops allied to the Northern Alliance captured the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. It was the first major city in Afghanistan to fall to the Northern Alliance.

Stephanie Bunker, a spokeswoman for the United Nations office for humanitarian assistance, says she's heard reports of several incidents: "In Mazar[-i-Sharif] we have had several sources that have corroborated that over 100 Taliban troops -- who were young recruits, who were hiding in a school -- were killed by Northern Alliance forces on Saturday [10 November] at 6 p.m."

Bunker, who formerly worked in Afghanistan, made the comments from Islamabad, where she is now based. Her story is similar to comments made by Hazara field commander Mohammad Muhaqiq. Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency quotes Indian media as saying that Muhaqiq told journalists his unit was involved in a chase to drive out Taliban forces from Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban soldiers eventually hid in a girls' school. Muhaqiq's unit sent six emissaries to the school to give the Taliban fighters a message to surrender. All of the emissaries were killed and Muhaqiq then ordered the building to be attacked. Of the 100 soldiers who died, most were Pakistanis, Chechens, Uzbeks, and Arabs.

Reports coming out of Kabul, which fell to the Northern Alliance yesterday, speak of alliance troops killing many Arabs and Pakistanis. The bodies were left for the United Nations to carry away and bury. The identities of victims have not yet been made clear.

Governments and groups allied to the U.S.-led antiterror coalition have for weeks said that the Taliban's ranks are filled with terrorists, extremists, or separatists.

The United States says Osama bin Laden and his mostly Arab Al-Qaeda terrorist network are well represented among the Taliban. Russia says Chechen separatists are involved too. China says the same about Uighur separatists from its western Xinjiang province. The Central Asian states say their regional terrorists -- the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) -- are also implicated. The Northern Alliance -- mainly Sunni Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Shiite Hazaras -- say there is also a large number of Pakistanis fighting with the Taliban.

Listening to Ahmad Khan, a field commander under Northern Alliance General Abdulrashid Dostum, speak during last weekend's capture of Mazar-i-Sharif, it could be said many of the claims are true: "In Samangan, there were no IMU fighters, but we found eight Chechens, three Pakistanis, and four Kandaharis [Pashtuns]. We killed them after they put up resistance."

Khan was fighting in Samangan province east of Mazar-i-Sharif. He told RFE/RL he was looking for Uzbeks from the IMU there. General Dostum also said he was looking for Uzbeks from the IMU. In the meantime, other field commanders said they killed Chechens, Arabs, and Pakistanis. They said they identified the foreigners from their documents.

It was no secret there were many foreigners allied with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Their being singled out may be a reflection of the fact that, by all accounts, they seem to be among the last to resist Northern Alliance advances after the Taliban have withdrawn. These foreigners cannot retreat far, and for them there is no place to hide in Afghanistan, as they are not Afghans.

(The Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)