Afghanistan - When anti-Taliban troops entered Afghanistan's capital
yesterday, they received a muted welcome in a city weary from war and 37
days of American bombing.
cheered; teenagers tossed bits of paper and candy; and adults mostly
stared impassively as trucks packed with soldiers of the opposition
Northern Alliance drove into the capital, horns blaring.
were no huge, enthusiastic crowds to greet the new occupation forces. Many
residents had cleared out during the U.S. bombing campaign, and those who
remained in the city shut down their shops yesterday for fear of a bloody
battle for the capital.
few Taliban stragglers who did not flee with the rest of the city's
defenders were arrested or killed, their bodies left for morbid gawkers to
surround and poke for the rest of the day.
were clearly relieved to see the end of five years of occupation by the
Taliban, the puritanical Islamic movement that captured Kabul in 1996 and
imposed rigid religious rules in its areas. Some men celebrated yesterday
by shaving or trimming the long beards the Taliban had mandated. Others
gathered in the street to listen to music - banned under the Taliban -
blaring from loudspeakers.
their promises not to capture Kabul, Northern Alliance officials said they
had ordered their military to enter the city after the Taliban abandoned
Kabul overnight and armed groups began to loot it.
was no alternative for us but to send our military forces into
Kabul," said Dr. Abdullah, the Northern Alliance foreign minister
who, like many Afghans, uses only one name.
said most of the ugly incidents - such as the sacking of the Pakistani
Embassy - occurred early in the day, before the arrival of alliance
soldiers and several thousand gray-suited police officers.
Taliban soldiers were fleeing the city just before dawn, a missile
reportedly destroyed the office of Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite news
channel that has been critical of the United States. The director of the
channel, Mohammed Jassim al-Ali, said the missile was fired by the United
States but did not detonate.
Minister Abdullah called the capture of Kabul and the four-day campaign to
overrun the Taliban "a major and significant victory in the campaign
against terrorism." The United States began bombing the Taliban on
Oct. 7 after it refused to turn over terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden.
opposition force began its push on Kabul on Monday morning, in
coordination with U.S. air assaults on the front line that stretched
across the Shamali Plain, 25 miles north of Kabul.
the line was breached, Taliban defenders had little choice but to flee and
abandon the capital itself.
were not expecting their front lines to be broken so easily,"
Abdullah said. "They didn't have any defenses around Kabul, so they
had to run." He said the Taliban soldiers were more than 50 miles
from Kabul by late yesterday.
Northern Alliance's dawn drive across the Shamali Plain threaded through a
devastated wasteland, where a series of 15-foot-deep craters attested to
the ferocity of the American air assaults. The buildings in villages along
the way were crumbling mud-brick ruins rapidly returning to the earth,
helped along by U.S. bombs on top of decades of war.
the hazy mist of yesterday morning, the plain was eerily empty. The only
people moving were Northern Alliance soldiers scavenging abandoned Taliban
equipment. A surprising amount of heavy armor and antiaircraft weaponry
survived, considering it was a primary target of U.S. bombers.
three miles from Kabul, at a pass in the mountains called Kotal Khairkhana,
soldiers were preventing civilian vehicles from getting close to the
capital, seemingly fulfilling the promise not to capture the city.
troops began slipping in, many of them soldiers intent on passing through
Kabul in pursuit of the Taliban soldiers as they fled south. And after a
while, that trickle swelled, until there was a flood of traffic pouring
came in, people were lined up on two sides of the road shouting: 'Long
live the mujaheddin! Down with the Taliban,' " said Gulum Hazarat,
47, an infantryman who marched into Kabul. "That was rewarding."
of Kabul's markets were closed, though some vegetable vendors sold fresh
pumpkins, onions and potatoes. In the afternoon, a few shopkeepers
reopened their stores after determining the big battle was not going to
people were afraid this morning, but by tomorrow, all the shops will be
open again," said Mohammed Zarif, who sold electrical equipment.
am very happy today, so I cut my beard," Zarif said.
gathered in his shop said they, too, were pleased about the departure of
the Taliban - though some worried that the Northern Alliance factions
might begin fighting among themselves, as they did so disastrously in the
1990s after driving out the Soviets. The ensuing chaos led to the Taliban
that time, the mujaheddin didn't have much experience," said Sayed
Haizullah. "Now they have more experience, so I don't think a fight
will happen. A person should be allowed one mistake."
and other ethnic Pashtuns said they were unconcerned about expectations
that the alliance would try to grab power for northern ethnic groups -
Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras. The southern Pashtuns dominate the Taliban
leadership and are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
Northern Alliance soldiers, wearing new camouflage uniforms, and police
officers in gray fanned out over the city to establish security. Soldiers
set up roadblocks downtown and on Kabul's broad tree-lined streets to
inspect motorists' cars.
soldiers were said to be going door-to-door to hunt down stray Taliban
supporters. With a promised reward of $3,000 for every one they turned in,
residents were quick to point fingers at their neighbors.
residents around Shahrenaw Park did not even bother to collect the reward
money. After they encircled seven Arab and Pakistani Taliban fighters, a
gun battle broke out. The Taliban members sought refuge in the park's
trees but were brought down by mujaheddin marksmen. Their bodies lay
crumpled in a concrete drainage ditch.
in Kabul, four corpses were laid out on the street beside their upturned,
blackened pickup truck. Residents said the truck had been shot by a U.S.
jet the night before as the vehicle attempted to flee. "They were
running and the plane got them," said Shirin Shah.
was hardly upset by the grisly sight. "I'm very happy about the
coming of the mujaheddin. We're free. We were like slaves of the Taliban."
said that 8,000 Taliban soldiers fled the city in pickup trucks and headed
toward Kandahar, the stronghold of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The Taliban soldiers took with them the eight foreign aid workers,
including two Americans, they have been holding since Aug. 3, when the
Westerners were arrested on charges of proselytizing Afghan Muslims to
Northern Alliance, regarded in much of southern Afghanistan as an
unwelcome force, was not going to pursue the Taliban forces much beyond
Kabul, officials said.
"We don't intend to move into southern Afghanistan, though you might not believe us since we promised not to move on Kabul," said Abdullah.