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Afghan Opposition Struggles to Re-Capture Strategic Northern City - 2001-11-08

Afghanistan's opposition forces are said to be struggling to advance against the Taleban in their efforts to re-capture the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Opposition forces under General Rashid Dostum reportedly are facing stiff resistance as they push forward from territory recaptured from the Taleban Wednesday near Mazar-e-Sharif.

An opposition spokesman says it took just seven hours Wednesday for General Dostum's forces to re-take the districts of Keshenday, Shulgara and Aqkoporok, about 25 kilometers south of Mazar city.

He says the fighting ended quickly when Mullah Zaman, the Taleban commander in charge of the Shulgara district, defected to the Northern Alliance, also known as the United Front. Mullah Zaman, believed to be a key player within the Taleban military, reportedly joined General Dostum with 500 of his men.

But the general is now said to be bogged down and facing a heavy Taleban defense around Chashma-e-Shafa village, about 10 kilometers outside Mazar-e-Sharif.

Witnesses there say Mr. Dostum's forces are running low on ammunition and say they may have to retreat if they cannot get re-supplied quickly. The Taleban is said to be reinforcing their front lines in Mazar by the hundreds to prevent further opposition advances.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press Thursday quoted Taleban officials as saying their forces have already beaten back one opposition offensive south of Mazar-e-Sharif but this could not be independently verified.

As a key supply link to the capital, Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif is a prized city for the Northern Alliance.