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RESPONSE TO TERROR | AFGHANISTAN

Locals, Alliance Rout Taliban From Western City

November 15, 2001|SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HERAT, Afghanistan — Residents of this western Afghan city, still celebrating with gunfire, flares and tracer bullets, said Wednesday that they had driven the Taliban out 48 hours earlier with little more than sticks, knives and guns they had hidden for years.

The Taliban, disorganized and disheartened after a month of U.S.-led bombing, did not put up much of a fight, residents said. Ordinary citizens such as Gholam Habib Kousri said they joined forces with the Northern Alliance to drive out the Taliban, whose fighters fled into the nearby mountains. Many of them are thought to still be there, rendering the 100-mile stretch of road between the Iranian border and Herat unsafe at night.

Other Taliban fighters, including Chechens and Arabs who came to defend the radical Islamic regime, are said to be held prisoner here out of sight. Otherwise, abandoned tanks along the roadside are the only physical sign that the Taliban once was here.

Charismatic warlord Ismail Khan, once the governor of this region, sent out a call for the popular uprising that toppled the Taliban.

"Ismail Khan's voice called for the people to take over," said Yekeh Khan Tourie, military commander of the town of Ghurian, which is located about halfway between Herat and the Iranian border.

Tourie said Khan is consolidating his power. The commander said he and other fighters are heeding Khan's order of amnesty for Taliban soldiers. The amnesty has limits, however. Tourie said Taliban members who lash out from their hide-outs will be hunted down.

Rebuilding the infrastructure, battered by war and neglected by the Taliban, may prove more difficult than political unification, Tourie said. Potholed dirt roads haven't been repaired for years. Generators provide electricity in Herat only 4 1/2 hours a day.

Almost every male carries a Kalashnikov assault rifle. But weapons do not erase the fear of being abandoned by other countries, as Afghans feel they were after the Soviet army withdrew in 1989.

"Please deliver our message to [U.N. Secretary-General] Kofi Annan and the international community," Tourie said. "We need their help."

The first international aid workers arrived in Herat on Wednesday. Brunson McKinley, an official of the International Organization for Migration, is to meet with Khan this morning to negotiate a resumption of humanitarian aid.

An 11-truck convoy carrying 11,000 blankets, 4,500 jerrycans and 50,000 bars of laundry soap is to head for Herat today, said IOM spokesman Christopher Lom.

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