Forces Break Through Taliban Front Lines

KABUL, Afghanistan?Opposition forces broke through Taliban front lines Monday and pushed into the hills above the capital, Kabul, rushing south on a string of stunning victories in northern Afghanistan.

The ruling Islamic militia circled the mile-high city with tanks to defend against an all out assault.

Shouting “God is great,” anti Taliban troops rolled within 12 miles of Kabul on trucks carrying the green, white and black Afghan flag and displaying pictures of their slain commander, Ahmed Shah Massood.

The anti-Taliban forces, a coalition of factions and ethnic groups, capped their four-day dash across the north by overruning western Afghanistan’s biggest city, Herat. Commanders said they were pushing toward Kunduz, the last Taliban-held city in the north.

Haron Amin, a Washington based envoy for the northern alliance, said Monday that the anti-Taliban forces will try to surround Kabul, which sits surrounded by the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains, to prevent the Taliban from reinforcing or resupplying their troops inside.

“We have no intention of going into Kabul,” Amin said. The United Nations must first come up with a plan for dividing power in Afghanistan after the Taliban falls, he said.

At the United Nations, the United States, Russia and six nations that border Afghanistan pledged “to establish a broad-based Afghan administration on an urgent basis.”

The aim is to put together a transitional leadership that is broadly acceptable, possibly including Taliban defectors. The United Nations might take interim control of the capital, and Muslim and non-Muslim nations are likely to join with Turkey in providing peacekeepers, U.S. officials said.

Likely participants with Turkey in a combined peacekeeping force from Muslim and non-Muslim countries include Indonesia, Bangladesh and Jordan, U.S. officials said.

The Taliban losses followed an intensive bombing campaign by the United States, and some of the militia’s commanders switched sides once the opposition forces gained momentum.

President Bush launched the air campaign on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The Taliban admitted their lines had collapsed around Kabul?where the front had been stalemated for years?but said they would fight for the capital.

“We have decided to defend Kabul,” the Taliban ambassador to neighboring Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said in Islamabad. “It is true that the opposition breached our front line near Kabul, but we have erected another one and are strengthening our position.”

The opposition claimed Taliban forces were fleeing Kabul. However, according to reporters in the city, there was no sign of any mass exodus, though a few senior Taliban officials appeared to have left.

Gen. Rashid Dostum, a northern alliance commander, said an opposition force of up to 300 fighters was ready to enter Kabul on Tuesday to “maintain order.”

Dostum, speaking from the newly captured northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, told Turkey’s private NTV television that the main body of opposition forces would hold off from entering the capital.

He said 15,000 former Taliban troops and some Taliban commanders had crossed over to the alliance during recent fighting.