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Commander Supporting Taliban Defects

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  • Josh Pollack
    Washington Post Commander Supporting Taliban Defects By Doug Struck Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, November 4, 2001; Page A20
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4, 2001
      Washington Post
      Commander Supporting Taliban Defects
      By Doug Struck
      Washington Post Foreign Service
      Sunday, November 4, 2001; Page A20

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36534-2001Nov3.html

      TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, Nov. 3 -- The American bombardment began to show some
      results Friday when a commander fighting with the Taliban defected, bringing
      with him 1,350 fighters and control of several towns in northern
      Afghanistan, according to the commander and other rebel officers.

      "I didn't want the fighting to destroy the country. I wanted to surrender in
      peace," the commander, Mohammed Hasham Habib Gorzovani, also known as Hasham
      Khan, said by telephone today.

      Habib said through an interpreter that some villagers are turning against
      the Taliban, capturing or killing them. That assertion could not be
      verified.

      Another commander of the Afghan rebel forces said today their fighters had
      captured 200 Taliban soldiers and that 800 local residents had joined the
      forces of the Northern Alliance following a four-hour fight Friday in the
      village of Aq Kopruk, about 18 miles south of Mazar-e Sharif. Territorial
      gains appeared minimal, however.

      "The Taliban counterattacked five times, and failed each time. But the
      fighting is continuing," said Kurdratulla Umar, an officer with the forces
      of Attah Mohammad, whose line extends to within five miles of the key
      northern city.

      These accounts suggest cracks in the defenses, but the Taliban remains a
      formidable force that has not crumbled under the U.S. bombing nor the
      attacks by the Northern Alliance.

      "The Taliban's front line is increasing," said Mukhammad Unus Konuni, an
      official of the Northern Alliance reached by telephone in Afghanistan. "The
      number of Pakistanis who are coming to help the Taliban is increasing every
      day. They come with new equipment to fight.

      "It's good the Americans are bombing, otherwise they could attack us,"
      Konuni said. "The American planes have been massively bombing their front
      lines, with obvious results."

      American strategists hoped that the steady building of pressure on the
      Taliban would result in wholesale defections by local commanders, renowned
      for their fast-changing loyalties.

      Habib, who switched sides Friday, has done so before. He was a top commander
      with Abdurrashid Dostum, a local warlord now fighting with the Northern
      Alliance, until Dostum fled to Turkey in 1999. Habib and his men continued
      fighting in the mountains for about six months, and then, fearing Dostum's
      enemies within the Northern Alliance, elected to join the Taliban.

      "I had to join the Taliban," he said. "My men were starving in the
      mountains."

      But Friday, with a lull in the fighting, he negotiated by radio with Dostum,
      his old general who returned to Afghanistan six months ago to take up the
      fight. Habib defected with about 1,000 men, the bulk of what is called the
      35th Army.

      They surrendered to Attah Mohammad's Northern Alliance forces in the town of
      Meymaneh, midway on the road between the western city of Herat and Mazar-e
      Sharif in the north. They turned over several surrounding villages,
      including Belcheragh, Kata Kala' and Pastun Kut.

      At the same time, another contingent of Habib's army, consisting of 350 men
      near the Panj River border with Tajikistan, defected, turning over the
      village of Emam Saheb just north of Kunduz. The area recently had been
      bombed heavily by U.S. planes, Habib said.

      "It is a great success to have Hasham Khan [Habib] on the government side,"
      said Konuni. "He has a lot of people in a lot of places, so he is a great
      asset. We hope he can carry the invasion to other spots."

      Already, his forces had been put back on the lines to fight the Taliban,
      their allies of two days ago, according to Umar. "Since he's been with us,
      he's been busy," Umar said late this evening.



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