Taliban Now Hold Less Than
20 Percent Of Country
By Michael Christie

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Four northeastern Afghan provinces have fallen from Taliban hands after the local population rose up in revolt, but they still control their southern stronghold of Kandahar, officials and tribal leaders said on Wednesday.
``Now the Taliban have less than 20 percent of the territory of Afghanistan,'' opposition Northern Alliance Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni told Reuters.
Underscoring that the Taliban may be under siege but are still a force to be reckoned with, U.S. jets bombed targets around the eastern city of Jalalabad six times during the night and into the morning, the private Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said. The Taliban stronghold controls the road from Kabul to the border with Pakistan.
The jets bombed Jalalabad airport, positions of the Taliban army Corp No. 1 and the No. 81 brigade as well as other military installations, AIP said. The city has for years been surrounded by training camps for the Islamic guerrillas of Osama bin Laden's network and Pakistanis fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
``We are also receiving reports of uprisings in Kandahar,'' Ganuni said, referring to the powerbase of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
He said the provinces of Laghman, Logar, Kunar and Nangahar, populated mainly by the majority ethnic Pashtuns, had fallen.
But he stopped short of saying his Northern Alliance fighters held the areas, including Jalalabad.
An intelligence official of the Taliban reached by telephone in Jalalabad said the city remained in Taliban hands.
``We will fight to the last,'' he told Reuters.
Tribal leader Hamid Karzai said from inside central Afghanistan that Kandahar, which lies at the heart of the majority Pashtun belt that mainly supports the Taliban, appeared to be firmly in the hands of the fundamentalist militia.
``They (the Taliban) have not pulled out of Kandahar,'' he told Reuters by satellite telephone from his hideout.
He has been working since the U.S. strikes began on October 7 to build support for a Loya Jirga, or grand council, of all Afghans to discuss the future Afghan government under the auspices of ex-King Zahir Shah.
The opposition Northern Alliance, made up mainly of minority Tajiks and Uzbeks, could face their toughest battles in the Pashtun districts.
Former Kandahar governor Gul Agha, also a veteran of the mujahideen war against the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, had led a band of fighters into Afghanistan from a haven across the border in neighboring Pakistan, Karzai said.
``That is true. He went in,'' he said, adding that there was no sign of U.S. special forces in the area.
A day earlier, witnesses said thousands of tribal fighters were advancing on Kandahar after taking the nearby airport.
Travelers from the area arriving in the Pakistani border town of Chaman said they had seen 4,000 to 5,000 fighters capture the airport, some 20 miles south of Kandahar.
They said they could threaten the city in the evening or on Wednesday morning.
The fighters were seen on the march at Shorandab mountains, some 18 miles from the city, the travelers told Reuters.


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