Mazar-e-Sharif residents may have helped drive out Taliban

Associated Press

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — Residents of Mazar-e-Sharif sacrificed sheep Saturday to celebrate the defeat of the Taliban in the northern Afghan city, and its latest conquerors vowed not to force women to wear veils, a representative of the opposition Northern Alliance said.

Northern Alliance fighters drove Taliban forces out of Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, a key victory that leaves the alliance in control of the areas bordering Uzbekistan. That is likely to open up supply routes to the poorly equipped fighters.

"The general mood of the people is very good," said Mohammed Hasham Saad, the top alliance representative in Uzbekistan. He said that after the Taliban fighters fled, residents gathered to sacrifice sheep and pray in the blue-tiled mosque that dominates the center of the city.

Saad said the alliance’s first priority will be to restore electricity and gas in the city. He said there was little damage to buildings in the fighting.

Saad said a massive U.S. bombing campaign that killed hundreds of Taliban fighters around Mazar-e-Sharif was not the only factor in its capture. He also credited popular support in the city, which is mostly ethnic Uzbek and Tajik — the two groups that dominate the alliance.

After alliance fighters broke through the Taliban lines and entered the city, some residents who were former fighters took out old Soviet-made assault rifles they had been hiding and opened fire on the Taliban, Saad said.

"The residents from inside of Mazar revolted against the Taliban," he said.

He said that the Taliban had fled the city, leaving behind some 700 Pakistani volunteer fighters who had just arrived Thursday as reinforcements. The Pakistanis hid in a school and a former commander’s home and surrendered Saturday afternoon after being surrounded by alliance fighters, he said. They were jailed, he said.

However, a commander of a Shiite Muslim opposition faction said anti-Taliban forces overran the school, killing about 1,000 Pakistanis and other foreigners fighting for the Taliban and capturing 50 others.

That claim was denied by Abdul Hanan Hemat, chief of the Taliban-controlled Bakhtar News Agency. None of the claims could be independently verified.

Saad said about 300 wounded Taliban fighters were in the hospital.

He said the alliance will not require women in Mazar-e-Sharif to wear veils in public, and that it plans to reopen the University of Mazar-e-Sharif "for girls and boys."

The Taliban have imposed a strict brand of Islam on the parts of Afghanistan they hold, making women cover their bodies and faces and barring them from more than a few years of lower school.

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

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