Taliban battle on in fortress of death mass grave

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The Independent Online

There are still survivors amid the bodies of at least 150 Taliban prisoners of war slaughtered by the Americans and their allies during a three-day revolt at the Qalai Janghi fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif.

Surviving Taliban shot dead an Afghan recovery worker a few metres from where we stood yesterday. British SAS troops then returned to the fortress to help flush the Taliban out and the Northern Alliance attempted to kill the survivors by firing rockets into the basement where they were trapped.

We were picking our way through the bodies of the dead Taliban when we heard three gunshots. An Afghan recovery worker fell dead. The other recovery workers panicked, throwing down their tools and running wildly in all directions. But the ground was a minefield littered with rockets and hand grenades.

Two more gunshots rang out. The firing was coming from the basement where scores of foreign Taliban volunteers were held before fighting broke out in the fortress at the weekend. Somehow amid the carnage at least one Taliban prisoner had survived the American air bombardment and ferocious fighting in the fortress. There was no way of telling how many could be down there. They were still alive more than 24 hours after the end of the fighting, crouched among the bodies.

They must have been down there all day on Wednesday, waiting for their chance. That came yesterday when the Afghan grave diggers ignored warnings from the Red Cross and tried to start bringing bodies out of the basement. The surviving Taliban killed one and wounded two others.

The Red Cross had to abandon its efforts to recover and register the bodies that still littered the ground. At least five British SAS troops and one American Special Forces soldier yesterday returned to the fortress where they had been involved in the three-day battle in which the prisoners of war were killed.

The American was in military uniform wearing camouflage fatigues but the British SAS soldiers were in Western civilian clothes and carrying machine guns.

They covered their faces with scarves when reporters approached and declined to answer any questions on what they were going to do about the Taliban in the basement.

Northern Alliance soldiers had their own solution. They lined up at the entrance to the basement huge rockets designed to be used with truck-mounted rocket launchers. They cut off the electronic fuses, stuck on an old-fashioned fuse which they lit with another piece of fuse, then ran for cover.

The rockets shot into the basement, making deafening explosions underground and sending clouds of smoke billowing out of the entrance. They sent about 20 rockets into the basement but at the end of the afternoon they were concerned the Taliban might still be alive down there and were talking of flooding the basement with water to flush them out. The Western Special Forces had disappeared.

Osama Bin Laden's foreign volunteers are supposed to have vowed to fight to the death. Yesterday at least one was still doing that. But he probably thinks he has little choice. After the massacre here, he cannot expect the Northern Alliance will let him out of the basement alive.

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