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Afghanistan: Alliance Claims Prison Uprising Has Been Quelled

  • Ron Synovitz

U.S. special forces and Northern Alliance fighters spent a third day battling mutinous pro-Taliban prisoners inside a fortress near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. In the south, U.S. Marines who seized an airstrip yesterday near Kandahar have attacked a Taliban armored column and are threatening further attacks today.

Prague, 27 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Northern Alliance commanders say they recaptured most of a fortress prison near Mazar-i-Sharif today -- effectively bringing an end to a three-day uprising by Osama bin Laden loyalists who had surrendered during the weekend from the nearby city of Kondoz.

Senior Northern Alliance commander Ustad Attah says all of the remaining pro-Taliban fighters at the Qala-i-Janghi fortress have been disarmed. Alim Razim, an adviser to Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum, says all of the mutineers have been killed.

The Northern Alliance was refusing to let journalists into the prison complex of the 18th-century citadel to independently confirm their claims.

But journalists nearby confirm that the situation is now relatively quiet after fierce fighting and continued U.S. air strikes during much of the day. A television crew from Turkey's private NTV station videotaped scenes of heavy fighting inside part of the fortress today. The NTV broadcasts show Northern Alliance fighters facing fierce resistance.

Earlier today, the rebellious prisoners were using mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers that they had captured from the fortress armory. Taliban sniper fire also was targeting Northern Alliance troops and journalists in different parts of the 18th-century mud-brick fortress.

Earlier today, some 500 weary Alliance troops and a handful of U.S. special forces at the citadel were reinforced by 200 fresh Alliance fighters and at least 16 soldiers from the British special forces.

Those deployments followed the evacuation of five soldiers from the U.S. special forces who were injured yesterday when a U.S. bomb aimed at the mutineers went astray. The incident is the first confirmed case of Americans being injured in Afghanistan by U.S. ordnance. The soldiers were being flown today from Uzbekistan to a hospital in Ramstein, Germany.

U.S. officials also are now confirming that a CIA operative has been "unaccounted for" since the early stages of the prisoner revolt. The officials in Washington, who are requesting anonymity, say do not know whether the operative was killed, captured, or injured. But a "Time" magazine reporter who was at the prison complex on 25 November reported seeing one American man killed.

The uprising has been a major embarrassment for the forces of General Dostum, who has been using the Qala-i-Janghi citadel as his headquarters. The ethnic-Uzbek Dostum on 25 November was forced to halt an advance on Kondoz and send his troops back to Mazar-i-Sharif to contain the revolt. In the interim, troops under rival Northern Alliance commander Mohammad Daoud Khan captured Kondoz -- a strategic city that controls overland supply routes from Tajikistan. Daoud is an ethnic Tajik.

In southern Afghanistan, U.S. Marines are threatening further attacks against the Taliban forces at Kandahar -- the Islamic militia's last remaining stronghold in the country.

Kenton Keith, a spokesman in Islamabad for U.S.-led coalition forces, said today that more than 1,000 Marines are being deployed at a private airstrip that was seized by an advance force of Marines yesterday. Keith says the airstrip is about 100 kilometers southwest of Kandahar and is within striking distance of the city: "In the past 24 hours there have been 166 sorties flown, 19,200 daily rations dropped. Five-hundred Marines have landed in the area southwest of Kandahar, five-hundred more will land today and tomorrow."

Newly released video by a Western pool reporter aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu includes a speech made to the soldiers by Lieutenant Colonel Chris Bourne as they prepared to deploy in C53 Cobra helicopters yesterday: "Eleven weeks ago, our country was attacked. Tonight [U.S.] Marines land in Afghanistan. From that moment, the tide is turned. This fight is over for Al-Qaeda. This fight is over for the Taliban."

The voice of U.S. General James Mattis, commander of the U.S. attack task force in the Arabian Sea, also was recorded on tape as he spoke to his staff just before the first U.S. Marines were deployed in Afghanistan: "There's a million things that can go right or wrong. We'll have to see how many come out on our side."

The first battle between U.S. conventional ground forces and Taliban fighters occurred overnight. Marines called in air support to attack a column of Taliban armor that appeared to be moving toward them. Some 15 Taliban vehicles reportedly were destroyed. There were no reports of any U.S. casualties in that operation.

Further to the south, looting and chaos reportedly broke out after nightfall in the border town of Spin Boldak following an announcement by tribal leaders today that their surrender talks with local Taliban commanders had failed.

The pro-Taliban Afghan Islamic Press reports that Taliban rule over Spin Boldak has collapsed, and that fighters from the Achakzai and Nurzai tribes are now taking control. The reports could not be immediately confirmed. But the tribal leaders earlier today threatened to seize the area from the Taliban. Spin Boldak controls the last remaining road that could be used by Taliban forces trying to retreat overland from Kandahar into Pakistan.