Taliban Captures Key Northern City
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban army captured the key northern city of Taloqan after heavy fighting, dealing a major blow to the opposition.
The soldiers entered the city early Wednesday, taking at least 80 opposition fighters as prisoners and seizing a large amount of weapons, including tanks, said Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen.
``Now our soldiers are disarming the civilian population and strengthening their positions in the city,″ he said at the Taliban embassy in neighboring Pakistan.
The Taliban soldiers entered Taloqan, 160 miles north of the Afghan capital of Kabul, after two hours of fighting during the night, said opposition spokesman Mohammed Abil.
``Our fighters suffered several casualties during the fighting, but none when we were pulling out,″ he said by telephone, without elaborating on the casualties. ``We pulled out of the city to avoid civilian casualties.″
Abil said their soldiers are now positioned about three miles east of Taloqan, which was among the last few important cities under the control of an alliance led by the ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani and former Defense Minister Ahmed Shah Massood.
The Taliban, who rule more than 90 percent of the country under a strict version of Islamic law, are Sunni Muslims and mostly Pashtun, Afghanistan’s majority ethnic group. The opposition is made up of ethnic and religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims, Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks.
Taloqan, capital of Takhar province, lies close to the border with the Central Asian state of Tajikistan.
The city served as the main supply route to opposition forces holed up in Panjshir valley, 70 miles northeast of Kabul. With its loss, the opposition now controls only the neighboring province of Badakshan and small pockets in a few other northern provinces.
Anti-Taliban forces blew up a bridge between Taloqan and the nearby district of Farkhar to stop the Taliban’s advance, Shaheen said. ``We have started rebuilding the bridge and will soon launch an assault on Farkhar and Badakshan.″
Taloqan had been under siege for several weeks after the Taliban soldiers captured several key northern towns in a string of victories last month. Both the opposition and the Taliban have refused to release casualty figures.
On Wednesday, the Taliban issued a statement urging the United Nations to recognize their government as the world body opens a major summit of world leaders in New York. The statement from Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil said Rabbani has ``little following″ in Afghanistan and should not have been invited to the World Millennium Summit, which begins Wednesday.
``The U.N. should take into account the reality and recognize our government,″ he said. ``Rabbani is not in a position to implement any of the U.N. resolutions that would be passed in the summit.″