Mystery of Taliban 'flown out by Pakistan'
By David Rennie in Kunduz
DAOUD KHAN, the conqueror of Kunduz, glowered yesterday as he sat in the wreckage of the newly captured Taliban headquarters in the city.
Behind the general, soldiers paraded two shaking Pathan prisoners, their arms pinioned with their own turbans. Others were put on morose display in a courtyard.
For two weeks Gen Daoud's men had surrounded the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan, held at bay, he claimed, by 6,000 foreign fighters. He had been up all night overseeing the final advance.
Yet at the last, he complained, he had been robbed of putting the foreigners "on trial" after Pakistan, the original sponsor of the Taliban, sent transport planes to spirit away unknown numbers of them.
"We were not able to prevent the Pakistani air force from landing, and taking away the terrorists," he said.
The Pentagon denied the claims. Gen Richard Myers, chairman of the chiefs of staff, said Kunduz airfield had been "disabled" by US attacks. Although parts could be used, the runway was not long enough to take transport aircraft.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, said: "I have received absolutely no information that would verify or validate statements about airplanes moving in or out. I doubt them."
But the city seethed with talk of planes landing and taking off throughout Sunday evening. Commanders who fought for control of the airport reported seeing three planes land and take off, and a fourth circle before disappearing, as alliance forces attacked.
Northern Alliance troops were angry at Pakistan, and the US, which they said controlled the skies and could have stopped the "flights" if it had wanted. They suggested that a deal had been done with Pakistan in return for its support in the campaign in the south.
One soldier, Mahmud Shah, said: "We had decided to kill all of them, and we are not happy with America for letting the planes come." The truth about the foreign fighters of Kunduz and their apparent disappearance remains for the moment a very Afghan mystery.