Taliban flee as Northern Alliance takes control of Kabul

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Taliban military forces deserted the Afghanistan capital of Kabul overnight, leaving the Northern Alliance free to move in early today without resistance. Meanwhile, thousands of opposition troops were marching on the sourthern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

As the sun rose over the Hindu Kush mountains, residents of Kabul shouted congratulations, honked car horns and rang bells on their bicycles.

In Kandahar, the southern Taliban stronghold and birthplace of the movement, a resident contacted by telephone said the Taliban appeared to have abandoned that city too – except for uniformed militia police.

Tensions were running high, he said, and people feared anarchy. There was speculation that the Taliban were fleeing to the southern mountains to mount a guerrilla war. In an indication of the unprecented speed with which the situation was changing, the Northern Alliance claimed that Kandahar, too, might be under their control within 24 hours.

Wary of US and Pakistan warnings not to enter the city, the opposition commanders maintained that most of their troops remained outside of Kabul, in order to minimise possible retaliation. Nevertheless, bands of heavily armed Northern Alliance soldiers were reported to be roaming the city in taxis, trucks and cars, seeking out Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens and others who had come to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban.

Five Pakistanis were killed in a shoot-out early today, witnesses said. Their bodies lay in a public park hours later. Alliance troops were setting up roadblocks on streets were Arabs and others associated with Osama bin Laden's al–Qa'ida movement had been living.

The bodies of two dead Arabs were on the street near a United Nations guest house. Close to the bodies were rocket launchers and a rifle.

Alliance soldiers stood guard outside the offices of some international aid organizations. Some, however, appeared to have been looted. "Some illegal people went through and took everything from the offices," said Ghulam Ali, an elderly resident.

Sporadic small arms fire could be heard from the hills overlooking the city – apparently the work of Northern Alliance troops celebrating their return to Kabul – but the streets were empty of the Taliban soldiers who had been there hours earlier. All Taliban military compounds were abandoned.

From the rooftop of the Intercontinental Hotel on a hill overlooking Kabul, columns of Taliban vehicles were seen heading south late on Monday, an exodus that continued through the night.

As they fled, the Taliban took eight foreign aid workers, including two Americans, accused of spreading Christianity in Muslim Afghanistan, witnesses said.

Northern Alliance forces moved into the capital in pick-up trucks loaded with soldiers, armed with rifles and rocket launchers. Opposition forces quickly moved into empty military barracks that had been in Taliban hands.

In neighboring Pakistan, the Taliban's Deputy Ambassador Sohail Shaheen acknowledged, "We have already vacated Kabul."

In Charikar, 35 miles to the north of Kabul, the Northern Alliance's interior minister, Yunis Qanoni, prepared to send in 1,000 newly- trained police to provide security within Kabul.

The troops, dressed in charcoal–grey uniforms, stood in formation as Qanoni was trying to organize them into units to patrol each of Kabul's 12 districts.