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Northern Alliance claims victory near Mazar-e Sharif

By Satinder Bindra
CNN Correspondent

DASTIQALA, Afghanistan (CNN) -- After weeks of what appeared to be a stalemate around the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-e Sharif, the opposition Northern Alliance Saturday claimed a victory, saying its fighters had captured large parts of a nearby Taliban-held district.

Gen. Atiqullah Baryalai of the Northern Alliance said their United Front soldiers captured large portions of Aq-Kupruk, roughly 31 miles (50 km) south of Mazar-e Sharif, and that hundreds of Taliban fighters were now in their hands through capture or defection.

The report could be independently confirmed.

The capture would give the Northern Alliance/United Front fighters one of their biggest victories so far in their push towards Mazar-e Sharif, a strategically important city about 25 miles (40 km) south of Afghanistan's border with Uzbekistan.

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United Front commanders have repeated their intentions to launch a major offensive to capture Mazar-e Sharif, but it was not clear whether the town's capture was part of that push.

Fighting close to Mazar-e Sharif has been at a stalemate for weeks. Pentagon officials in the United States have said the fight for the city has been "difficult and tough," and that U.S. ground forces were helping numerous anti-Taliban forces -- including the Northern Alliance -- to coordinate the effort.

The Northern Alliance said after their forces entered Tisindih, about 400 Taliban fighters defected. An additional 200 Taliban fighters were captured, they said.

The Northern Alliance also said it seized about 50 military vehicles, including pickup trucks.

If the opposition forces gain control of Mazar-e Sharif, the United States has indicated it might set up an air base at a nearby airfield.


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