November 10, 2001
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'Our forces are inside Mazar. They are controlling the streets'

Shyam Bhatia in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Exuberant Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah left Dushanbe on the afternoon of Saturday, November 10, for his home base in Afghanistan, declaring Alliance forces are in control of the newly liberated city of Mazar-e- Sharif.

But Dr Abdullah was uncertain when foreign journalists would be allowed into Mazar. He was also non commital about the use of the city as a base for the still-to-be formed provisional government.

He refused to say if the Alliance's next military objective was the Afghan capital of Kabul.

"It all depends on developments," he told on the tarmac of the Dushanbe international airport before boarding a military helicopter for the flight to Khoja Bahawuddin inside Afghanistan.

"But I can tell you our forces are inside Mazar. They are controlling the streets."

Dr Abdullah has spent the last three days in Dushanbe, partly to talk with officials travelling with the Turkish president on his State visit to Tajikistan. He confirmed to that Turkey was one of the members of the international coalition preparing to send special commando forces to Afghanistan.

The Alliance foreign minister would have returned home on Friday, November 9 itself, but bad weather kept his helicopter grounded until early Saturday when it was allowed to take off for the one hour flight to Khoja Bahawuddin. He was accompanied by members of his personal staff, the director of military logistics, General Azizuddin, and five Iranian diplomats.

The inclusion of the Iranian diplomats, who are expected to visit the Alliance's new front line positions, is significant in the light of Tehran's support for Alliance forces.

The Alliance claims it has captured the two provinces of Balkh and Samangam which means it is closer to opening a land corridor between Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat on the Iranian border.

This intended link with Herat, where Alliance General Ismail Khan has his operational headquarters, is quite separate from the other land corridor that will now become possible between Mazar-e-Sharif and other regions in Afghanistan.

Alliance diplomats in Dushanbe are confident that supplies will soon start to move into Mazar-e-Sharif from Uzbekistan, although they concede the border areas are heavily mined. This weekend the first lorry loads of humanitarian supplies are expected to try and complete the journey from the Uzbek border.

The Dushanbe-based Afghan diplomats have refused to comment on contradictory reports about which Alliance general should take the credit for liberating Mazar-e-Sharif.

General Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek, was the first military commander to announce he had seized the city from the Taleban. But his fellow Alliance commander, Ata Mohammed, a Tajik, has also been credited as author of the military success.

On Saturday Taleban Defence Minister Obaidullah Akhund admitted the loss of Mazar-e-Sharif, saying "Yes, Mazar has gone." This is the Taleban's first major military defeat since the US bombing of Afghanistan started more than a month ago.

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