Taliban in north surrender in droves
BAGHLAN, Afghanistan (CNN) -- More than 1,000 Taliban troops surrendered to Northern Alliance troops around Konduz on Saturday, moving south of the besieged city to hand over their weapons.
Northern Alliance Gen. Jaffar Naderi told CNN a Taliban commander with 450 Afghan troops surrendered on Saturday near Pul-e Kumhri.
"I'm try going to get these people who have surrendered to me out and move them toward Baghlan Province," Naderi said. The surrendering troops are mostly Afghans who "didn't do anything to bad to the Afghan people," he said, and "Now they are fighting for the Northern Alliance under my command."
Earlier, at least 500 Taliban surrendered Saturday east of Konduz, and 400 more turned themselves in west of the city, near Mazar-e Sharif. Those who gave themselves up east of Konduz included a senior Taliban commander, Mullah Hamidullah.
"I have given up my arms and surrendered to Northern Alliance," Hamidullah told CNN. He said he brought with him 250 Taliban soldiers, about 15 cars and three anti-aircraft guns.
Northern Alliance officials said they had expected another top Taliban leader, Mullah Amidullah, to surrender on Sunday.
A top Taliban commander negotiated the surrender Wednesday with Northern Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. The surrender is supposed to be complete by Sunday, but hard-core Taliban fighters and al Qaeda troops -- most from outside Afghanistan -- have vowed to keep fighting.
The Northern Alliance has amassed about 30,000 troops around Konduz, the last city in the north to be held by the Taliban. Tanks and hundreds of troops drove to the front line near the city Saturday, saying they were prepared to launch an attack as soon as the signal is given. At Mazar-e Sharif, Dostum and other Northern Alliance officers coordinating the surrender were accompanied by U.S. troops, who were overlooking the situation from a distance. In Washington, a U.S. official said some of the fighters in the besieged city may be deputies and lieutenants to Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Northern Alliance commanders believe the majority of the surrendering troops near Mazar-e Sharif are from Pakistan, Chechnya and Saudi Arabia. Northern Alliance officials were interviewing the surrendering troops, trying to separate Afghan Taliban fighters from the international troops.
Many of the non-Afghan Taliban fighters are loyal to bin Laden, and it has been feared that those inside Konduz would choose to fight to the death. At Mazar-e Sharif, a surrendering Taliban soldier detonated a hand grenade Saturday, killing himself and two comrades and seriously injuring a senior Northern Alliance commander.
Dostum said he wants to hand non-Afghan Taliban over to the United Nations, but no U.N. representative is present in the city.
The Pentagon on Saturday denied persistent reports that Pakistani planes were airlifting Pakistani fighters out of Konduz. Lt. Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the United States controls the skies over Afghanistan, and "it makes no sense we'd allow aircraft in to take them out."
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that Washington would oppose any surrender agreement that allows the Taliban's international volunteers to leave the country.
On the east side of Konduz, about 500 Taliban troops in 20 Taliban pickup trucks, four military trucks and four tanks crossed the Bangi Bridge in Takhar Province to surrender themselves and their weapons. Northern Alliance troops warmly greeted their former Taliban foes, shaking their hands and welcoming them to their territory.
Defecting troops told CNN they had surrendered under the request of their commanders and because the U.S. airstrikes on Konduz had demoralized the forces. They said they were willing to join the Northern Alliance in fighting the remaining Taliban inside Konduz.
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