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Northern Alliance Claims its Forces Are Ready to Capture Strategic Airport - 2001-10-20

The nominal head of Afghanistan's opposition group, the Northern Alliance, said alliance troops are close to capturing the airport in the strategic city of Mazar-e-sharif in northern Afghanistan.

Northern Alliance president Burhanuddin Rabbani told reporters Saturday that oppostion forces have nearly surrounded the airport in the Taleban-held city of Mazar-e-sharif near the border with Uzbekistan.

He says alliance commanders there are planning to launch a two-pronged attack to recapture the airport from defending Taleban forces.

Mr. Rabbani says the attack can come at any time.

Mr. Rabbani was less certain about the time line for an advance on the capitol, Kabul, however. He says soldiers near Kabul are prepared to advance but no decision has been made as of yet.

Almost two weeks of U.S.-led bombings of key Taleban sites have accelerated talks between the Northern Alliance, the United States and other countries with stakes in Afghanistan.

They have been attempting to formulate a new broadbased, multi-ethnic government to replace the fundamentalist Taleban. With the talks still ongoing, Northern Alliance leaders say its forces will not advance on Kabul without a clear political solution in place first.

The alliance still considers itself the rightful government of Afghanistan and Mr. Rabbani is recognized by the United Nations as it legitmate leader. He was ejected from Kabul after the Taleban siezed power in 1996.