FRIDAY NOVEMBER 16 2001
Massacre threat to Taleban's foreigners
FROM IAN COBAIN IN TALOQAN
NORTHERN ALLIANCE forces have threatened to massacre up to 6,000 foreigners fighting with the Taleban in the besieged province of Konduz.
Local fighters would be given a chance to surrender, but Alliance commanders said they had given their troops explicit orders to shoot every foreign fundamentalist — including a handful of British Muslims — among the enemy ranks.
High-ranking Taleban leaders would also be executed, the alliance said, apparently confirming Western fears that Afghanistan could yet be plunged into a bloodbath. “We will hang them in the stadium in Kabul where they have hanged our people,” an spokesman for the alliance foreign ministry said.
With the Alliance poised to launch a massive attack on Konduz tonight, a senior Taleban emissary raced to Islamabad to beg the United Nations to accept the surrender of between 15,000 and 20,000 Taleban fighters trapped in the province.
The Taleban’s founder Mullah Muhammad Omar has exhorted his followers to regroup and battle on, but the troops in Konduz want to give up the fight. They tried to negotiate a safe passage to the south in return for the surrender of the province, but the Northern Alliance insisted that they must give themselves up. Now they are trying to surrender to the UN as a neutral power rather than throw themselves on the mercy of the enemy.
The commander of Alliance forces in the region, General Mohammad Dawood Khan, said that his men had tightened the noose around Konduz, but had agreed not to press home any attacks before tonight. He claimed to be anxious to avoid civilian casualties and to want to offer Afghan soldiers the chance to give themselves up.
He said: “We have to separate and distinguish between Afghan Taleban, the local Taleban and the international terrorists who are in Konduz province.
“We will invite the people to join us and give the low-ranking Taleban the opportunity to appear in a court of law, but we will have no negotiations with the high-ranking terrorists. We will not deal with them. They are killers. They assassinated our leader, Ahmed Shah Masood.”
The general said that he believed that almost all the surviving Taleban troops in northern Afghanistan were trapped in Konduz province, which covers an area the size of Dorset, and within Konduz city. Well-armed, they are thought to number between 15,000 and 20,000, with some 6,000 of them from Chechnya, Pakistan, Xinjiang province in western China, the Punjab and several Arab nations.
Taleban prisoners of war report that they have also fought alongside English Muslims of Pakistani origin. Many of the foreigners are thought to be members of al-Qaeda, which operated a training camp near the city.
General Mohammad Khaksar, one of General Dawood’s senior advisers, said that he had given his men orders to shoot every one of the foreigners after a number of non-Afghan Taleban had emerged from their positions with their hands raised, only to kill themselves and their captors with concealed explosives and grenades.
“What else can I do?” he said. “We can’t trust fighters who do not observe the conventions of war. They still want to die after surrender and they want to take my soldiers with them.”
More than 100 Alliance fighters were massacred on Tuesday after being captured by Taleban forces, and a number of civic officials in Konduz, a largely Pashtun city, are said to have been murdered by the Taleban after announcing that they wanted to surrender to the Alliance — most of whose members are ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks. There have been further reports of dozens of Afghan Taleban troops being mown down by their Chechen comrades while trying to surrender to Alliance forces.
Frontline Alliance commanders were also eager to make clear that they would take no foreign prisoners. Rajab Mohammad, 30, a veteran of 13 years of Afghan warfare, said that he and the 27 men under his command were enjoying the battle at Bangi.
Squatting in a trench with his teenage bodyguard at his side, he said: “We enjoy fighting the strangers. They are good fighters. They take it seriously.”
Asked why the Taleban’s international brigade should be fighting so hard at Konduz, he smiled and replied: “Because the strangers know that they have no choice. They know that they will never be taken prisoner.”
The past four days have seen desperate fighting in the hills and narrow gorges east of Konduz, with tank attacks, hand-to-hand combat and even a wild cavalry charge by horsemen armed with Kalashnikovs.
Desperate Taleban forces have repeatedly appeared to be on the brink of breaking out of Konduz, but have always been beaten back by Alliance forces. Hundreds of fresh Alliance troops were pouring towards the front lines throughout yesterday, backed by more rocket launchers and field guns, and by 23 Soviet-made tanks brought down from Kalakata in the north.
With both sides suffering heavy casualties, the Alliancedecided to suspend hostilities, ostensibly to give Afghan Taleban troops time to surrender. But US warplanes intensified bombing raids on Taleban positions, with three waves of B52 strikes and repeated attacks by FA18 bombers.
By mid-afternoon immense clouds of smoke and dust were hanging over Taleban positions around the village of Bangi, 17 miles west of Taloqan, and the ground was reverberating for miles around.