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Northern Alliance Poised to Claim Kunduz - 2001-11-25

In Afghanistan, the besieged city of Kunduz appears ready to fall to the Northern Alliance. But apparent rivalries within the Alliance have delayed the final takeover of the city, the last Taleban stronghold in the north.

The prize of Kunduz is within reach of the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance. But ethnic and political rivalries appeared to prevent the Alliance from claiming the prize Sunday.

The defection of thousands of Afghan and foreign Taleban fighters seemed to assure the Northern Alliance of victory. A small vanguard force loyal to Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum entered the western perimeter of the city early Sunday.

But by nightfall, the city was still not secured. A tank force approaching from the east halted its advance, while the progress of the Dostum force from the west is not clear.

According to one report, a deal had been struck that would have General Dostum halt his advance from the west, while allowing the forces of Tajik commander Mohammad Daoud to take the city from the east.

Kunduz is the last stronghold of the Taleban in the north, and its loss will leave the Taleban in control of only its home province of Kandahar in the south.

The Alliance had given the Taleban garrison until Sunday to surrender. Faced with that deadline, more than 1,000 Taleban defenders gave themselves up Saturday. Afghan Taleban were not detained, but foreign Taleban fighters were taken into custody.

The siege of Kunduz has been marked by a series of contradictory reports that have made it extremely difficult to pin down what is actually going on. There were reports last week that the surrender of the garrison had been arranged, but those reports turned out to be false.

According to several accounts, the confusion can be attributed to rifts between different ethnic groups within the rickety Alliance, particularly between those led by Uzbek General Dostum and fighters loyal to former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, both of which want control of city.

General Dostum's own stronghold is the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the first city taken by the Alliance in its victorious push. Control of Kunduz would give General Dostum control of a large swath of territory in Northern Afghanistan, and therefore considerable leverage in any negotiations on a future Afghan government.