Deposed Government Retakes Military Base
JEBUL SIRAJ, Afghanistan (AP) _ Afghanistan’s deposed government claimed today to have retaken a military base north of the capital, in its biggest victory since the Taliban religious army forced it from Kabul last month.
Ahmed Shah Massood, leader of the ousted government’s military, said his soldiers captured the air base at Baghram after an overnight battle with Taliban soldiers.
In the Afghan capital, 30 miles south of Baghram, refugees who walked throughout the night to get to Kabul reported heavy fighting at Baghram.
However, they could not confirm Massood’s claim that he now controlled the military base. At checkpoints outside the capital, visibly nervous Taliban soldiers refused to let reporters beyond the city limits.
There was no definitive reports on casualties. Hospitals in the capital said they received only a few wounded overnight from Baghram.
Taliban fighters seized Kabul on Sept. 27, and now control about two-thirds of the country in their bid to impose strict Islamic rule on Afghanistan.
On Friday, Massood called his first news conference since being forced from the capital to say he would fight to retake the air base.
Speaking at his headquarters at Jebul Siraj, about 60 miles north of Kabul, Massood also accused neighboring Pakistan of aiding the Taliban forces, which Massood called an occupation force.
Pakistan’s interior minister, Nasrullah Babar, has been shuttling between the Taliban fighters and Gen. Rashid Dostum _ a warlord who controls the country’s second-largest army after the Taliban _ to try to broker a peace agreement.
Dostum and Massood agreed last week to join forces against the Taliban, saying they wanted a broad-based, moderate government for Afghanistan. Dostum sent hundreds of troops and Soviet-made tanks to the front Thursday to fight alongside Massood’s army.
Massood said the Taliban ``initiated these talks with Dostum in an effort to break the alliance ... and also to give time to the Taliban to re-arm and build up for their next big offensive.″
``The Taliban has lost more by winning Kabul because they have proven themselves to be unpopular,″ he said. ``They have lost support of the people ... The Islamic fundamentalism is not popular among Afghans.″
Since taking Kabul, the new Taliban rulers have moved quickly to impose their interpretation of Islam, preventing women from working, closing girls’ schools, and forcing men to wear beards and skullcaps or turbans.
There were unconfirmed reports last week that the Taliban had moved most of its aircraft from Baghram and relocated them to the civilian airport in Kabul.
When Massood’s forces fled Kabul, they apparently flew out four fighter jets, but left behind Russian-made helicopter gunships.
It wasn’t clear what weaponry and equipment remained in Baghram when Massood’s troops took over the airport.