Kabul celebrates Taliban flight

Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans in the capital savored the end of five years of harsh Taliban rule as diplomats sought U.N. help in fashioning a government for the shattered country.

American jets still prowled the skies in the south, seeking out convoys of Taliban fighters retreating toward Kandahar, the Islamic militants’ last major stronghold. Strikes also targeted caves where members of terror suspect Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network were thought to be hiding

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said a "small number" of American special forces were in Kabul, advising the Northern Alliance, which marched in Kabul early Tuesday as the Taliban fled. He told journalists at the Pentagon that the troops were not enough to police the city or prevent retaliation by the opposition.

He also said a small number of U.S. troops are operating against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

The dizzying cascade of events in Afghanistan turned the opposition into the country’s chief power overnight — and brought to the forefront the issue of ensuring that it shares power. The United States and its allies want a government that includes groups of the ethnic minorities that make up the alliance and the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group.

The United Nations on Tuesday called for a two-year transitional government for Afghanistan backed by a multinational security force, while world leaders say the world body should have a leading role in the war-ravaged nation’s peace process.

The alliance leaders said they had deployed 3,000 security troops across Kabul to bring order — not to occupy it — and insisted they were committed to a broad-based goverment.

The alliance foreign minister, Abdullah, invited all Afghan factions except the Taliban to come to Kabul to negotiate on the country’s future.

In Washington, D.C., President Bush said the United States was working with the alliance to ensure they "respect the human rights of the people they are liberating."

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said its workers in Mazar-e-Sharif were burying victims of the violence "by the hundreds." A Northern Alliance official denied reports of slayings and instability.

In the streets of Kabul, thousands of people celebrated, honking car horns and ringing bicycle bells. They flouted the strict version of Islamic law imposed by the Taliban that regulated almost every aspect of life, down to banning shaving and music.

Most women, however, were too cautious to shed their all-encompassing burqas, unsure what the new rules would be.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an armed force of Pashtuns was moving against the Taliban near Kandahar. The official would not elaborate.

The U.S. official said the Taliban were in disarray in several areas in the south. Field commanders were fleeing and some were switching sides, the official said. There were signs the Taliban were abandoning cities, possibly to fight a guerrilla war from the mountains.

Associated Press

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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