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Taliban hold under 20 percent of country: opposition This article was published in the
Dawn The Internet Edition on 14 Nov 2001

QUETTA, Nov 14: Four northeastern Afghan provinces have fallen from Taliban hands after the local population rose up in revolt, but they still control their southern stronghold of Kandahar, officials and tribal leaders said today. "Now Taliban have less than 20 percent of the territory of Afghanistan," opposition Northern Alliance Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni told Reuters.

"We are also receiving reports of uprisings in Kandahar," he said, referring to the power base of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

He said the provinces of Laghman, Logar, Kunar and Nangahar, populated mainly by the majority ethnic Pashtuns, had fallen. But he stopped short of saying his Northern Alliance fighters held the areas, including the eastern city of Jalalabad.

An intelligence official of the Taliban reached by telephone in Jalalabad said the city remained in Taliban hands. "We will fight to the last," he told Reuters.

Tribal leader Hamid Karzai said from inside central Afghanistan that Kandahar, which lies at the heart of the majority Pashtun belt that mainly supports Taliban, appeared to be firmly in the hands of Taliban.

"Taliban have not pulled out of Kandahar," he told Reuters by satellite telephone from his hideout.

He has been working since the U.S. strikes began on October 7 to build support for a Loya Jirga, or grand council, of all Afghans to discuss the future Afghan government under the auspices of ex-King Zahir Shah.

The opposition Northern Alliance, made up mainly of minority Tajiks and Uzbeks, could face their toughest battles in the Pashtun districts.

Former Kandahar governor Gul Agha, also a veteran of the Mujahideen war against the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, had led a band of fighters into Afghanistan from a haven across the border in Pakistan, Karzai said.

"That is true. He went in," he said, adding that there was no sign of U.S. Special Forces in the area.

A day earlier, witnesses said thousands of tribal fighters were advancing on Kandahar after taking the nearby airport.

Travellers from the area arriving in Chaman said they had seen 4,000 to 5,000 fighters capture the airport, some 30 km (20 miles) south of Kandahar.

They said they could threaten the city in the evening or this morning. The fighters were seen on the march at Shorandab Mountains, some 28 km (18 miles) from the city, the travellers told Reuters. - Reuters