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Thousands of Taleban Fighters Defecting, says Northern Alliance - 2001-10-13

In northern Afghanistan there are increasing reports of defections among Taleban fighters. Northern Alliance commanders claim thousands of Taleban soldiers crossed over Saturday to join the Alliance. If true, it would be the largest known defection since the allied air strikes against the Taleban began seven days ago.

Military commanders in the Northern Alliance say the mass defections are a clear indication that the U.S.-lead bombings of key Taleban held cities in Afghanistan is breaking down morale of Taleban fighters.

The commander on the front line of Kukcha river near the border with Tajikistan told VOA that two-thousand Taleban soldiers together with some 40 officers defected to the rebels Saturday in nearby Kunduz.

Kunduz was one of the areas that took the brunt of sustained allied air strikes launched across Afghanistan one week ago. Commander Abdul Qayoum said Taleban fighters in Kunduz fired several rockets early Saturday morning but, he says, the intended targets were not rebel positions. He says the Taleban were trying to kill their own men to keep them from defecting.

None of this has been independently confirmed, but the Northern Alliance insists the air strikes are weakening the will of the Taleban soldiers to continue fighting. The Alliance foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters Saturday that the Taleban have not launched a counter offensive in over a week.

He says he believes the bombings have severely disrupted the Taleban military's ability to coordinate attacks. The Northern Alliance, also known as the united front, represents a coalition of warring factions that has banded together to resist the Taleban.

A major component of the alliance is the former Afghan government, which was driven out by the Taleban in 1996. The Northern Alliance currently controls less than 10 percent of Afghanistan.