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Afghanistan: Fighting Continues As Taliban Faces Setbacks

Islamabad, 30 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Afghan forces loyal to former government commander Ahmad Shah Masood have seized control of a key northern town from the Taliban after launching a full-scale attack this morning.

A Taliban spokesman told the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency that the withdrawal from Jabal-us-Seraj was a "tactical retreat."

The agency says Masood's fighters are now locked in battle with the Taliban further south near Charikar. There is no independent confirmation of that fighting. AIP said the Taliban has rushed in reinforcements to halt Masood's advance on the town that lies about 65 north of the capital Kabul. The town is also positioned near the Salang Highway, a key road linking Kabul with the north of the country.

Analysts say the fall of Charikar could put Kabul in range of opposition rockets.

An opposition spokesman, General Hmaune Powzi, today claimed the Taliban had lost control of the northern provinces of Faryab, Jojzan, and Sari-pul. Taliban officials rejected similar claims yesterday.

The setbacks for the Taliban Islamist militia come after it broke through into northern opposition stronghlds last week.

Meanwhile, a Russian general says the recent flareup in fighting in northern Afghanistan does not pose a serious threat to Russian forces patrolling the Tajik-Afghan border.

But General Alexander Suvorov, press secretary of the Russian Federal Border Guard Service, said Russian forces have been redeployed to areas along the border where they expect an influx of refugees from Afghanistan. He said up till now only small groups of Tajiks who fled their country during the outbreak of civil war in 1992 have been spotted in Afghanistan's border areas.