Taliban Gain Ground in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Beleaguered Afghan opposition soldiers retreated further north on Monday as the forces of the ruling Taliban Islamic militia launched a new assault backed by air attacks, an opposition spokesman said.
The Taliban captured almost half of Sarbagh district, 210 miles northwest of the capital Kabul, in an assault that started early Monday, Ustad Atta Mohammed, a senior commander of the northern-based opposition, told The Associated in a telephone interview from nearby Dar-e-Suf.
No immediate comment was available from the Taliban, who now have expanded their rule over 95 percent of Afghanistan, including Kabul.
Fighter planes belonging to the Taliban pounded the district several times, killing at least five civilians and wounding many more, Mohammed said.
The Taliban, backed by helicopter gunships and heavy artillery fire, made at least five attempts to capture the remaining half of Sarbagh, but were repulsed by opposition forces positions, he said.
Sarbagh, located in the northern province Samangan, is strategic because it is near a highway that connects the provincial capital with neighboring Bamiyan province, controlled by the Taliban.
The Taliban, who follow an orthodox interpretation of Islam, have scored major victories against the opposition in recent weeks, capturing most of northern Takhar province, including its capital Takhar, the headquarters of the opposition.
Led by ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani and former Defense Minister Ahmed Shah Massood, the opposition now controls northeastern Badakhshan province and small pockets in other northern provinces.
Both sides in the conflict have ignored the United Nations’ repeated pleas for peace. Both sides accuse the other of firing the first shot.
The Taliban are Sunni Muslims and mostly Pashtun, Afghanistan’s majority ethnic group, while the opposition is made up of ethnic and religious minorities.