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Afghanistan: Kondoz Attacked On Three Fronts

Kabul, 23 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Fighting reportedly continued today in Kondoz, with forces from the Northern Alliance attacking the Taliban's last stronghold in the North. The Afghan Islamic Press agency says fighting was focused on three fronts around the city -- in Khanabad, Pul-i-Bangi, and Dasht-i-Arachi.

The assault followed reported attempts to negotiate the surrender of Kondoz. The status of any such deal is unclear. Upwards of 10,000 Taliban and foreign fighters are reported in the area, among them Pakistanis, Arabs, and Chechens.

Northern Alliance commander General Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, told CNN television that he plans to lead a 5,000-men force to Kondoz tomorrow to oversee a Taliban surrender planned for the following day, 25 November.

However, Younus Qanuni, interior minister in the ousted government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, yesterday ordered his forces to attack Kondoz. Rabbani is an ethnic Tajik.

There were reports yesterday of some Taliban troops surrendering, but opposition commanders said foreign fighters were refusing to lay down their weapons.

Reports say U.S. warplanes have been in action, bombarding positions around Kondoz and Taliban targets elsewhere in Afghanistan. The U.S.-led military campaign is today in its 48th day.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said up to 600 dead bodies had been found in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif after it was abandoned by the Taliban earlier in November. The Red Cross said it could not say whether the dead had been executed or killed in fighting.

During a visit to Moscow, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said the Taliban is in retreat but has not yet been defeated. But Robertson expressed confidence that the Taliban would eventually be broken and that Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network would face justice for the 11 September attacks on America.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov cautioned that destroying the Taliban would not mean that international terrorism has been defeated. He called for action against terrorist threats outside Afghanistan.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is Pakistan today for talks on the situation in Afghanistan, including the effort to form a new post-Taliban administration in the country.

Straw is expected to meet with Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, and Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar.

Straw yesterday held talks in Iran, Pakistan's rival for influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan was until recently a strong backer of the Taliban, while Iran supports the opposition Northern Alliance.

The consultations come ahead of the gathering of Afghan ethnic and political factions in Bonn, Germany, for United Nations-sponsored talks on establishing a broad-based interim Afghan government. Those talks begin on 26 November.

After flying to Islamabad, the British foreign secretary yesterday held talks with UN Afghan envoy Francesc Vendrell. Vendrell said afterwards that the upcoming meeting in Germany could be a "good start," but he warned against high expectations for quick success, saying there remains a great deal of mistrust between the various Afghan factions.