Archive for Monday, November 26, 2001

Battle rages anew for northern Afghan fortress

November 26, 2001


— Dozens of captured fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden used rockets to battle anti-Taliban forces Monday from the tower of a mud-walled fortress where hundreds of their comrades were killed a day earlier, witnesses said.

The Pentagon and the northern alliance said Sunday that they put down the uprising at the sprawling 18th-century fortress, but alliance fighters and witnesses said dozens of prisoners were still holed up in a tower Monday, firing rockets after running out of ammunition for their guns.

Several hundred alliance fighters could be seen moving in and out of the northern side of the fort 10 miles west of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. Explosions continued to rock the area, and U.S. warplanes streaked overhead.

Hundreds of prisoners were killed in U.S. airstrikes and by alliance fighters after their uprising Sunday, which one U.S. official described as a "suicide mission" by the captured Taliban fighters. An alliance official said 40 alliance soldiers were killed.

Massood, an alliance fighter who uses one name, said that about 100 prisoners were left in the fort Monday, trapped in a tower. Out of bullets, 20 or 30 of them were firing rocket launchers at troops who could not gain control of the fort after 24 hours of fighting, he said.

Alim Razim, an adviser to alliance commander Gen. Rashid Dostum, who controls the fort, said by mid-afternoon just a few of the prisoners were still alive. "Those who are left over will be dead," he said. "None of them can escape."

A journalist who was briefly trapped inside the fortress Sunday said an American soldier was disarmed and killed by the Arab, Chechen and Pakistani prisoners, and television footage showed a U.S. special forces soldier inside telling his commanders that an American might be dead. The Pentagon said no U.S. military forces were killed in the uprising.

The death toll among the prisoners was undetermined but appeared high. The alliance said most of the prisoners were killed, and estimates of how many had been inside ran from 300 to as high as 800. "They were all killed and very few were arrested," alliance spokesman Zaher Wahadat said.

The prisoners, who surrendered Saturday at the besieged city of Kunduz, east of Mazar-e-Sharif, were being held to determine their ties to bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

U.S. military officials said the prisoners smuggled weapons under their tunics and seized an ammunitions depot so they could battle their captors. After several hours, about 500 alliance reinforcements arrived, backed up by U.S. airstrikes.

Alex Perry, a journalist for Time magazine who was inside the fort during the uprising, told an editor that 800 people were involved in the fighting, and that an American soldier was killed.

"There were two American soldiers inside the fort: one of whom was disarmed and killed _ he was called Mike," Perry said in a transcript of their conversation on the Web site

Footage taken by a crew from Germany's ARD television network also showed a U.S. special forces soldier inside ordering airstrikes over the phone and telling his commanders he believed an American had been killed.

Pentagon spokesman Marine Lt. Col. David Lapan said no U.S. military personnel were killed in the uprising.

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