Taliban retreats to mountains as Northern Alliance enters Kabul


Northern Alliance fighters have entered the Afghan capital, Kabul, as reports from across the country pointed to a collapse of Taliban rule.

Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has reportedly fled to Pakistan as Taliban forces appear to be abandoning their stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

It is thought Taliban fighters are withdrawing into the remote southern mountains to wage guerrilla war.

Along the Pakistani border at Chaman, a Taliban official said about 200 former guerrillas had mutinied against the Taliban in Kandahar. There are also reports the Taliban is preparing to abandon the northeastern city of Jalalabad.

In the west, opposition commander Mr Ismail Khan has entered the ancient city of Herat, his former powerbase, with 4,000 fighters. The strategic southwestern Afghan province of Nimruz bordering Iran has also been captured.

Most of the Northern Alliance forces, who have made sweeping gains with backing from US air strikes, are now positioned on the outskirts of Kabul.

But witnesses said the alliance's defence and foreign ministers had driven into the city despite urging from the United States for the alliance to wait for agreement on a broad-based government before entering Kabul.

Kabul residents, fearful of a return of the alliance following bloody power struggles when they last controlled the city, emerged from their homes to see the occasional body of a Taliban fighter in the street.

But a senior official said the Northern Alliance has no plans to rule the country following its march into Kabul and remains committed to a peace process under the ex-king.

However, a top aide to the former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah has accused the Northern Alliance of violating a prior agreement with the exiled monarch by entering the Afghan capital.

Pakistan, previously the main backer of the Taliban militia, has now called for an international force to take over Kabul and for the area to be demilitarised.

The White House said it was studying reports from Kabul. "At this point, the situation on the ground is very fluid," White House National Security Council spokesman Mr Sean McCormack said.

Eight foreign aid workers on trial in Afghanistan for allegedly preaching Christianity were taken overnight to the southern city of Kandahar from Kabul by retreating Taliban militia forces, the father of one of the American prisoners said.