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Opposition soldiers capture northern city

June 11, 1997

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Opposition forces reported seizing a northern stronghold today from Taliban soldiers, who fled after being caught in a three-pronged assault.

It was the latest defeat for the Taliban religous army, which only three weeks ago had taken control of 90 percent of Afghanistan.

The Taliban was driven from Pul-e-Khumri, 90 miles north of the Afghan capital Kabul after a day of fierce fighting, an opposition spokesman known only as Abdullah said today.

The anti-Taliban offensive was launched with forces loyal to ousted military chief Ahmed Shah Massood advancing from the south, Ismaili Muslim troops from the east and Uzbek forces from the north.

``We captured 500 prisoners in Pul-e-Khumri and the other Taliban fled toward the old city of Baghlan,″ 18 miles to the north, he said.

The Taliban army seized Pul-e-Khumri more than two weeks ago, driving out the minority Ismaili Muslims. But it has been under daily attacks from opposition forces since then, residents said.

The opposition coalition, known as the National Islamic Front for the Deliverance of Afghanistan, now controls the northern third of Afghanistan, including Pul-e-Khumri.

The Taliban army has been driven out of most of northern Afghan in the last few weeks after its alliance with ethnic Uzbeks in the region soured.

Its worst defeat came two weeks ago in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where at least 300 Taliban soldiers were killed and hundreds more taken prisoner.

At least 3,000 Taliban soldiers were captured, including the Taliban government’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Ghoul and the western Herat governor Abdul Razzak, the opposition said.

Since then, the Taliban army has sought to consolidate its power in the two-thirds of Afghanistan it still controls and bring in reinforcements from neighboring Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled to escape fighting in their homeland.

Thousands of Taliban soldiers were poised to overrun Jebul Siraj, a key city 50 miles north of Kabul that lies on the Salang Highway, Afghanistan’s only north-south link.

Late Tuesday, the Taliban’s Radio Shariat urged all civilians in Jebul Siraj to evacuate.

``All the people should evacuate the area because our offensive will start soon against the evil corrupt forces,″ it said.

The Taliban, which is made up mostly of Pashtuns, the country’s majority ethnic group, have imposed their own strict version of Islam in areas under their control.

They have prohibited music and most entertainment, closed girls’ schools, banned women from the workplace and forced men to wear beards and pray at mosques. Neighboring countries are watching the fighting in Afghanistan warily, fearing that the Taliban will seek to export their brand of Islam.

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