KABUL, Afghanistan — The night sky over Kabul exploded in celebration Saturday with millions of rounds of red, white and green tracer fire and machine-gun bursts after thousands of Muslim guerrillas took control of the capital in less than 24 hours.
The takeover, marking the end of a 14-year guerrilla war against a failed authoritarian regime, came with a minimum of bloodshed and reprisals.
However, Associated Press reported that columns of smoke were seen today rising from ridges along the southern edge of the city, near the base of intransigent guerrilla commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Smoke also was coming from near the former Communist Party Central Committee building, adjacent to the huge presidential palace.
The street running along the western side of the walled-in presidential compound was sealed between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. by guerrillas led by Hekmatyar, AP reported.
They were exchanging gunfire sporadically with fighters inside the compound, who belong to the moderate faction of the powerful rival \o7 moujahedeen \f7 leader Ahmed Shah Masoud, the news agency said.
There had been sporadic firefights and reports of several dozen casualties as hundreds of commanders from rival \o7 moujahedeen \f7 factions took the city Saturday from demoralized and confused forces of the former regime.
The guerrillas seized the presidential palace, key telecommunications centers and garrison after garrison in an apparent free-for-all that carved up the capital into a dangerous checkerboard of control by battle-hardened fighters loyal to competing political leaders.
Saturday's events appeared to be moves to checkmate rival groups, with the fighters taking control of real estate and leaving the new political order to be settled later.
Rebel commander Masoud, whose Jamaat-i-Islami fighters quickly secured Kabul's most strategic facilities, told reporters that he moved only after learning that rival fundamentalist rebel leader Hekmatyar planned to take the city for himself.
A power failure just before midnight left much of Kabul in darkness. Celebratory artillery and machine-gun fire suddenly seemed ominous, and a curfew was imposed after guerrillas commandeered dozens of taxis and buses at gunpoint.
Despite the disorder and divided loyalties, the rebels met little or no resistance.
The last vestiges of Kabul's crumbling regime simply collapsed under the weight of the rebel force, ceding buildings, tanks and machine guns just hours before the anniversary of the Marxist coup that had put it on the road to power 14 years and more than 1 million lives ago.
Thousands of soldiers surrendered, stripping off their uniforms and carrying them home with their few possessions in battered tin boxes.
Colonels and captains tore off their insignia of rank and quickly started taking orders from the same bearded commanders in U.S. Army camouflage fatigues they had battled so hard and so long.
The regime's once-powerful politicians drove around frantically in official limousines, reduced to little more than traffic cops appealing to soldiers not to fire and pleading with the rebel forces not to provoke them.
"This is a transitional moment--not a transitional period," Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil said as his black Mercedes whisked him out of the presidential palace at the precise moment that a truck overflowing with \o7 moujahedeen \f7 rebels was driving in to take possession of Kabul's symbolic power center.
The potential for a new phase of the civil war remained, however, with moderate and fundamentalist rebel factions taking up positions just across the street from each other throughout the city.
But this did not dim the rebels' moment of victory.
Shouting "Victory is ours," one \o7 moujahedeen \f7 regiment loyal to Masoud showered Kabul's main street with red tulips and purple wildflowers as they took possession of the state-run Bank of Afghanistan.
Another group loyal to Hekmatyar hugged and kissed the soldiers they were replacing at one of several gates to the presidential palace.
Soldiers brought out plates of rice and kebabs to another group of Hekmatyar supporters that had taken over the Interior Ministry complex with the help of pro-Hekmatyar elements and guerrilla commanders who joined forces after infiltrating the regime's last stronghold during the past days, weeks and even years.
It was clear from Saturday's events that commanders who had borne the brunt of a bitter war that pitted brother against brother and transformed the Afghan countryside into a landscape of destruction had finally grown impatient with their fractious, exiled political leadership based in neighboring Pakistan.