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Afghanistan: Taliban Battle Pashtun Uprising

Islamabad, 2 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- There are reports today from Afghanistan suggesting the possibility of the first armed uprising by ethnic Pashtuns against the Taliban in southern Afthanistan. The reports say there was a clash yesterday between the Taliban and a group of supporters of the ex-king, Zahir Shah, led by tribal leader Hamid Karzai.

Earlier today, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted unnamed Taliban sources as saying that 25 followers of Pashtun tribal leader Karzai had been arrested after a battle in Uruzgan province, near Kandahar. Karzai himself was said to have escaped. But Karzai yesterday told BBC that his forces had fought the Taliban off.

The agency said the Taliban plan to execute some of Karzai's followers and that the hangings may take place today. The Taliban militia is predominantly Pashtun.

Another Pashtun tribal leader, Kahalem Abdul Ghader, told the BBC that Karzai's group had withdrawn in the mountains with supporters and local people to start an armed rebellion against the Taliban.

In other news, B-52 bombers pounded the front lines of the Taliban militia north of the Afghan capital Kabul today.

Opposition leaders said the attack was among the most intense bombardments since a U.S.-led campaign began nearly four weeks ago. The huge planes dropped more than 15 bombs in a few hours.

U.S. jets also bombed targets inside Kabul today for the first time in four days.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States intends to increase the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan to assist forces fighting the ruling Taliban.

Rumsfeld said in Washington the additional troops also will provide improved targeting information for U.S. warplanes bombing Taliban forces and suspected terrorist hideouts.

Meanwhile, the UN said that Taliban forces have taken over most UN offices and vehicles in Taliban-controlled Kandahar.

The offices contain communications facilities needed for humanitarian projects. No information was given on what the Taliban are using the offices for, but UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said the vehicles are being used by armed Taliban elements.

The UN refugee agency today said more than 100,000 Afghans are believed to have fled to Pakistan, despite the officially closed border.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said today that UN-run border camps within Pakistan can house 150,000 people. But many Afghan refugees aren't seeking emergency help, Redmond said, for fear of deportation to Afghanistan.

Iran's IRNA news agency reported today that refugees at two Iranian-run camps just inside the Afghan border have contracted cholera, dysentery, and tuberculosis, among other diseases. Doctors and aid workers reported a shortage of medicine and equipment in the overcrowded camps.