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Afghanistan: Opposition Reports Taking Herat

Kabul, 12 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Reports from Kabul say the Afghan opposition Northern Alliance claims it has captured the western Afghan city of Herat. An alliance spokesman, Mohammed Abil, reported the advance by telephone to Western news agencies. Iran radio carried the report also. There is no independent confirmation of the claim.

If true, the advance would be part of a string of successes against retreating forces of the Taliban Islamic militia. Herat is the largest city in western Afghanistan. Iran's IRNA news service and AFP also report that opposition forces have entered the northeast town of Kunduz.

Afghan opposition commanders moved more troops and tanks towards the front line north of Kabul today. A Reuters correspondent with the opposition Northern Alliance say 200 troops with 10 tanks advanced early today to join forces facing the ruling Taliban militia.

A unit commander, Mohammad Abdullah, said the opposition plans to begin an attack on Kabul later today. Reuters reports from front-line Bagram airbase that U.S. bombers attacked Taliban forces at the front.

The opposition seized the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday and the Taliban reportedly suffered other losses in the north. The Taliban's ambassador in Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, confirms that the Islamic militia has withdrawn from seven northern provinces.

The Taliban controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan before a U.S.-led coalition began air assaults a few weeks after the 11 September terror attacks in the United States.

Uzbek Emergency Situations Minister Rovshan Khaidarov says the first shipment of UN emergency aid from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan will arrive today, two days earlier than previously announced.

Khaidarov told Agence France Presse the shipment was moved up from Wednesday because concerns about the security situation on the Afghan side of the border were resolved sooner than expected.

The shipment will travel by barge from the Uzbek city of Termez to the northern Afghan town of Heiraton, from where the aid will be distributed. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has been stockpiling hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies in Termez for weeks.

Today's shipment will mark the first time Uzbekistan has opened its border with Afghanistan in four years. Uzbekistan closed the border when Taliban forces took control of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, about 50 kilometers south of Termez. But Afghanistan's opposition Northern Alliance pushed the Taliban out of the city on Friday.

Taliban fighters have killed two French radio reporters in an ambush in northern Afghanistan. Radio France Internationale and RTL radio say their reporters, Johanne Sutton and Pierre Billaud, died yesterday when the Taliban ambushed an opposition Northern Alliance convoy near the border with Tajikistan.

After RFI confirmed Sutton's death yesterday, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin offered condolences to her family and colleagues. RTL radio subsequently confirmed Billaud's death.