In analmost unstoppable tide, Afghanistan's Northern Alliance forces took control of Kabul, while American aircraft pounded the columns of Taliban troops who abandoned the Afghan capital without a fight in the early hours of the morning.
The Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, called on the movement's followers in a radio address to stand and fight. But last night there were reports of popular uprisings in the eastern city of Jalalabad and in the Taliban's southern stronghold of Kandahar, where Pashtun tribal fighters claimed they had captured the city's airport.
Another Afghan city, Herat, also fell to forces commanded by the former governor, Ismail Khan, who escaped from a Taliban prison 18 months ago. Again, the regime withdrew without a fight. But in northern Afghanistan a major battle loomed as the Northern Alliance surrounded the city of Kunduz, where Taliban forces, supported by Arab, Chechen and Pakistani volunteers, prepared to fight to the death.
As Taliban forces yielded up large sections of the country, crossings along the border with Pakistan were abandoned. At the Torkham frontier post at the head of the Khyber Pass, which links Peshawar and Jalalabad, local elders were meeting to decide who should be in charge.
The speed of the Taliban collapse left the international community struggling to keep up. There were strong indications that Britain will announce its deployment of troops in Afghanistan today. Political efforts to put together a broad-based government went into high gear, and Western leaders tried to restrain the victors from massacring prisoners.
A United Nations spokeswoman in Islamabad, Stephanie Bunker, cited reports of summary executions in Mazar-i-Sharif, the first city to fall to the Northern Alliance. "In Mazar, we've had sources that have corroborated that over 100 Taliban troops who were young recruits who were hiding in a school were killed by Northern Alliance forces on Saturday at 6pm," she said.
The recruits are believed to be part of a group of several hundred Pakistani volunteers who arrived in Mazar only two days before. Confirmation of the reports will cause outrage in Pakistan. Last night, however, there were also reports of a Taliban counter-attack in Mazar.
As the Taliban retreated from Kabul, they took eight foreign aid workers, six women and two men, who had been accused of spreading Christianity. "I saw them with my own eyes. They put them in the truck and then left at midnight. They said they are going to Kandahar," Ajmal Mir, a guard at the abandoned detention centre in the heart of the city where the eight had been held, said.
Heavily-armed alliance troops roamed Kabul, hunting Taliban stragglers and their foreign allies from Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida movement. At least 11 Pakistanis and Arabs fighting for the Taliban were killed. President George Bush had urged the opposition to stay out of the capital until a government could be formed to replace the Taliban, but alliance officials said the unexpected Taliban evacuation made it necessary for them to maintain public order. They said the main alliance force remained outside Kabul, and that only 2,500 troops had been sent in to police the city, although their armament included tanks.
The opposition defence minister, Mohammad Fahim, and the foreign minister, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, drove into the city at midday, followed by the special security troops in cars festooned with pictures of their late commander, Ahmed Shah Massood, who was killed in a suicide bombing two days before the 11 September attacks.
A spokesman said there were no plans for the deposed president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is still recognised as Afghan head of state by most of the international community, to return to Kabul immediately.
As the sun rose over the Hindu Kush mountains, Kabul residents shouted out congratulations, honked car horns and rang bells on their bicycles. Men shaved off beards that had been made compulsory by the Taliban, and music, which had been banned, was heard once more.
In Kandahar, a resident contacted by telephone said the city was threatened by anarchy because many Taliban figures appeared to have left the city except for uniformed militia police. He speculated that the fighters were fleeing into the southern mountains to mount a guerrilla war.
At the Chaman border crossing, which links Kandahar with the Pakistani city of Quetta, a Taliban official, Mullah Najibullah, said about 200 militiamen who had been aligned with the Taliban mounted a mutiny in Kandahar. Anti- Taliban forces had seized part of the airport outside the city in fierce fighting.
In his address, the first since the Northern Alliance launched its blitzkrieg last week, Mullah Omar said he was still in Kandahar and urged his followers to organise and resist opposition troops.
"I order you to completely obey your commanders and not to go hither and thither," he told his troops over their military wireless sets.
"Any person who goes hither and thither is like a slaughtered chicken that falls and dies. You should regroup yourselves, resist and fight."
There was no independent confirmation, however, of Mullah Omar's whereabouts, and still less those of his "guest", Mr bin Laden.Reuse content