Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan say they are ready to move on Kabul after pushing the Taleban out of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. But U.S. officials are asking them not to.
Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told the CNN television program "Late Edition" that capturing Kabul is not just a military issue.
"There is a political importance and significance to it as well," he said. "We would rather prefer, and it would be an ideal situation for us, to have a broad agreement with different Afghan groups before entering Kabul."
That decision has eased Washington's concerns. In its efforts to forge a political strategy for Afghanistan, the Bush administration wants to allay fears of the Pashtun majority that the Northern Alliance, made up mostly of Tajik and Uzbek minorities, would seize control of Kabul.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told NBC news' Meet the Press program it would be better for the Northern Alliance to stay out of Kabul and avoid infighting among tribes trying to oust the Taleban.
"Entering a city is a difficult thing. You put people at close quarters, they are of different tribal loyalties," he said. "We have seen what has happened previously when you had an uncontrolled situation and two forces arriving in Kabul at the same time not meaning each well.
Mr. Powell says it would be wiser just to make Kabul, in his words, untenable for the Taleban to continue to occupy it.
But the U.S. diplomat says the international community must be ready for the fall of Kabul to avoid a political vacuum. "The international community, the United Nations, and others of us interested, have to be ready to move quickly toward a political action that would help the new Afghan elements coming together in some form of government to go in there," he said. "Or, have some kind of temporary administrative presence in Kabul so we do not have the sort of vacuum that is concerning the Northern Alliance foreign minister."
Mr. Powell insists the United States and the international community are committed to Afghanistan and will not abandon the country, unlike 10-years ago when the Taleban seized power. "We will be committed to help with humanitarian relief through the winter. And, after the demise of the Taleban regime, there will be a need for humanitarian relief," he said. "And we are committed to help with the reconstruction effort so we can give the people of Afghanistan the hope that the international community has not abandoned them."
Mr. Powell refused to speculate how long it will take to oust the Taleban forces, but suggests they are under stress from all directions. Mr. Powell raises hopes that southern tribes could be encouraged to end their alliance with the Taleban.