Taliban 'storm last stronghold'

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The Independent Online
AFGHANISTAN'S TALIBAN militia claimed yesterday to have captured one of the last opposition strongholds, the Shia Muslim Bamyan province, in the mountainous central region of the country. Its fall will alarm Iran, which said at the weekend that it was sending thousands of extra troops to the Afghan-Iran border, where 80,000 are already participating in "military exercises".

Taliban sources said a three-pronged attack won control of the province, with its crucial airstrip. Fighting was said to have been fierce, with a senior Taliban commander among the casualties. The Islamic militiareportedly bribed at least one opposition commander into switching sides.

How the Iranians will react to the defeat of their allies, if confirmed, is difficult to predict. It may provoke them into swift military action to prevent more Taliban success. If Bamyan has fallen, only the north- east of the country, including the Panjshir valley stronghold of the veteran commander Ahmed Shah Masood, is in opposition hands. For years Iran, a largely Shia Muslim country, has supported the Hezb-i-Wahdat against the largely Sunni Muslim Taliban.