Nov 13: News Upadets from Afghanistan
Top US officials pondered the fallout from an unexpected and controversial turn of events early today, after advance troops of the Northern Alliance began entering Kabul, despite admonishments from US President George W. Bush, officials said.
Coming only three days after Bush specifically urged Afghan opposition forces to stay away from the capital, the development appeared to present the US administration with a potential diplomatic quandary as it tries to put together a broad post-Taliban government for the war-torn country.
With Northern Alliance soldiers on the streets of Kabul, the White House and the Defence Department offered only brief comments, while the State Department offered no reaction at all.
"We've seen reports, we are evaluating the reports, and at the moment the situation on the ground is very fluid," White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo told AFP.
She declined to say whether President Bush was upset by the events or whether the alliance's stated decision to keep the bulk of its force outside the capital was acceptable.
The fluidity of the situation around Kabul was also underscored by the Defence Department, which refused even to confirm that elements of the Northern Alliance were inside the city.
"We cannot confirm that at the moment," said Pentagon spokesman Major Tim Blair.
He added no substantive comments would be made until developments on the ground were clarified.
Between 50 or 60 soldiers of the Northern Alliance, armed with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were initially seen entering the city from the north in jeeps and light trucks.
But as these patrols moved into position inside Kabul, a senior Northern Alliance commander clarified that his main military units were being held back.
"We have not allowed our Mujahedin to enter the city. We have only sent police forces," commander Gul Haider explained.
However, AFP journalists witnessed up to 1,000 soldiers, police and National Guard flooding into the city several hours later once a key checkpoint had been opened.
A Pentagon spokesman admitted the fast-developing situation presented those involved in Afghanistan with "some diplomatic questions that have to be addressed."
Blair said the US military and the opposition Northern Alliance in Afghanistan were not as closely coordinated as it might appear.
"We are not tracking them place by place or city by city," Blair said. "We are an adviser, but we are not necessarily giving them the goals they have to achieve."
The chief US concern is possible reaction from Pakistan, which has been adamantly opposed to the Northern Alliance controlling Kabul and has persuaded the Bush administration to adopt a similar stance.
After meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in New York on Saturday, Bush said he would "encourage our (Afghan) friends to head south ... but not into the city of Kabul itself."
Pakistani officials are concerned the Northern Alliance includes primarily representatives of the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities, but few Pashtuns that live in southern Afghanistan, along the Pakistani border.
They believe a government based on the Northern Alliance, which maintains close ties with Russia, Iran and India, could be unfriendly to Pakistan, according to diplomats here.
Explaining the US position, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a television interview Sunday that Pakistan and other parties believed "the situation in Kabul ought to reflect what is ultimately going to be needed in Afghanistan, namely a broadly based government."
But he made clear a final decision would ultimately rest with those who fight on the ground.
"We don't have enough forces in the ground to stand in their way," Rumsfeld pointed out. "I mean, they're going to make the decision."- AFP
The officials said there was no confirmation of the reports and they had no details. It was not known whether the violence involved opposition fighters taking revenge against lingering Taliban or pro-Taliban residents, or involved personal disputes.
U.N. officials also said an opposition commander had seized a U.N. convoy of 10 trucks carrying aid to the area and that a U.N. food warehouse in the city had been looted - though it was not known whether by the opposition or fleeing Taliban fighters.
Lindsey Davies, spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program, said the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif ``remains volatile, with reports of looting, abduction of civilians from the city, uncontrolled free-lance gunmen, and some street battles are ongoing.''
U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker - who like Davies spoke in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad - said ``unconfirmed reports speak of incidents including violence and summary executions'' in Mazar-e-Sharif.
After they took Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, one opposition commander reportedly ordered his forces to restrain themselves and offered an amnesty to Taliban supporters in the city. But several factions of the alliance, which is loosely made up of rival warlords who have opposed in the past, were involved in the city's capture.
Mazar-e-Sharif changed hands several times between the Taliban and opposition in 1997 and 1998, and each time there were bloody massacres allegedly committed by the victors.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Children's Fund said a 10-truck convoy was commandeered by opposition fighters soon after it arrived in Mazar-e-Sharif on Saturday with 200 tons of supplies. UNICEF said in a statement from Geneva that it was trying to ``ensure the safety'' of the convoy's Afghan drivers and the supplies.
Davies, of the WFP, said about 89 tons of food - including sugar, oil and high energy biscuits - had ``disappeared from our warehouse'' in Kabul.
UNICEF said its offices in the city had been stripped of their contents, including computers and furniture.
UNICEF and the WFP said they didn't know who was behind the looting of their facilities. But UNICEF said fleeing Taliban forces had made off with all its vehicles and communications equipment.
The northern alliance seized Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, forcing Taliban soldiers to retreat south toward Kabul - though over the weekend U.S. officials said there were still pockets of Taliban resistance in the city.
The capture of strategic northern city opened up a corridor for badly needed humanitarian aid from neighboring Uzbekistan. But relief officials are waiting to ship aid until they confirm that the area is secure.
The WFP hopes to bring 17,000 tons of food a month into Afghanistan from Uzbekistan. ``We have food, staff and offices to help the impoverished Afghans of the northern areas. What we need is security,'' said Davies.
The United Nations says Afghanistan is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis because of a devastating drought and a protracted civil war.
The opposition has pushed the Taliban out of most of northern Afghanistan in the past few days with the help of heavy U.S. bombing, and has threatened to launch an offensive on Kabul.