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Afghan alliance claims advances against Taliban

NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- Afghanistan's Northern Alliance claimed several new successes Sunday in its long-running fight against the country's ruling Taliban militia.

Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said his forces took the towns of Zari and Keshendeh, both in the Balkh province, in the north and killed 60 Taliban fighters.

Abdullah spoke to CNN from Dushanbe, Tajikistan's capital, where he was meeting with Tajik officials and a high-level Russian delegation to discuss the situation.

He also reported fighting in the western province of Herat, in mountains near the town of Pashtun Zarghun. Alliance commanders say they are advancing toward the town, controlled by the Taliban.

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Another alliance official said the alliance has killed a number of Taliban fighters on the battlefront north of Kabul.

The Northern Alliance is using tanks to pound positions along this front, approximately 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Afghan capital. In addition, the alliance says it has seized four villages and a mountaintop from the Taliban in the province of Faryab, southwest of the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance, which is still widely recognized as Afghanistan's government, has also been urging U.S. officials to put its experience to use in any possible attacks on the country.

Washington has demanded the Taliban hand over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who is said to be based in Afghanistan. The United States calls bin Laden the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The alliance says it is trying to cut off routes to Mazar-e-Sharif, controlled by the Taliban, to isolate the militia. It is also fighting along a front in Samangan province, southeast of Mazar-e-Sharif.

'We know the turf'

The Northern Alliance is still reeling from the September 9 assassination of its military commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud. But fighting has intensified recently, and the opposition has been buoyed by the prospect of U.S. military strikes against Afghanistan.

Alliance leaders say the group can be a valuable ally in any U.S. action against the Taliban.

"We know the terrain. We know the turf. We speak the language," Haron Amin, the alliance's representative to the United Nations told CNN on Saturday.

"We can be of maximum use in Afghanistan. And I think that's something the international community really needs to look at, needs to capitalize on that. We can do a lot of the groundwork."

U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, a CNN military adviser, also said the alliance could prove useful to keep pressure on the Taliban during any U.S. attack.

"It gives the Taliban one more thing to worry about," said Clark, the former NATO supreme commander.

"Even though they're split, even though they have differences, we'd like them to take strong measures -- as much as they can do."

With the prospect growing of military strikes on Afghanistan, the alliance said U.S. officials have been pressing them to provide as much intelligence on Taliban targets as it can. Its leaders said its contact with the United States has increased to "frantic" levels in the past week.

-- CNN Correspondents Chris Burns and Steve Harrigan contributed to this report.

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