Northern Alliance claims no counter-offensive


The Afghan opposition said today a planned Taliban counter-offensive had not materialised and neither side was able to break a stand-off near the strategic northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

There hasn't been a counterattack by the Taliban, Mr Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance's foreign minister, told reporters in the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe.

There was some artillery shelling of our positions, but it hasn't affected our frontline, he said.

In Shanghai, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was pleased the Northern Alliance were in striking range of Mazar-i-Sharif and likely to soon start moving on Kabul more aggressively.

The United States has, however, been reluctant to commit to more fully to the Northern Alliance and wants the establishment of a broad-based alternative to the Taliban before Kabul falls.

In Jabal-us-Saraj, in northern Afghanistan, a spokesman for another opposition commander said about 500 Taliban fighters had given themselves up not far from Mazar-i-Sharif.

Yesterday evening about 500 Taliban soldiers, including 10 commanders, surrendered to General Ustad Attah, Attah's secretary, Mr Kodrattullah, claimed.

There was no independent confirmation of the defections, and it was not clear whether the 500 would now swap sides and fight for the opposition, as is often the case in Afghanistan.