Qalai Janghi Fortress, Afghanist — Corpses with bound hands, dust mixed with dried blood, spent mortar rounds littering fields where horses grazed: No part of this massive fortress was left unstained by death in one of the most ferocious battles of the war on the Taliban.
A field inside the fortress was strewn with about 50 bodies. An Associated Press photographer Wednesday saw that some corpses had their arms tied with cloth despite assurances by a key northern alliance commander that none had been tied up.
Full details may never be known of the uprising by Taliban who were being held prisoner at Qalai Janghi fortress near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif or of the fierce assault that ended the rebellion. Red Cross workers on Wednesday began hauling bodies away, and with the remains likely went much of the evidence of what happened.
The questions include how the prisoners including Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and other non-Afghans got access to weapons, and whether some prisoners were executed after northern alliance troops gained control or died in the battle.
Nearly all the prisoners involved in the uprising were killed, alliance officials say perhaps around 450 fighters, though the precise number was uncertain.
The uprising was put down with the help of U.S. airstrikes, U.S. special forces and other covert forces believed to be British. Wednesday at the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said American officials do not have a clear picture of what happened. "There's a lot of questions that obviously need to be asked or answers that need to be obtained as to how that came about, or how that can be prevented in the future."
What is known is that the uprising began on Sunday and lasted three days another chapter in the bloody history of Mazar-e-Sharif, a city that has swapped hands repeatedly since 1997. It was the first major city to fall from Taliban control under the U.S. onslaught on Afghanistan aimed at rooting out Osama bin Laden and his terror network.
At the fortress, soldiers were seen cutting the bindings off the bodies with knives and scissors. One soldier used a piece of metal to pry gold fillings from a dead man's teeth. Bodies dotted the dusty ground and dry scrub of the compound, some falling together in trenches, many shoeless.
In another field, the bodies of many horses lay with gaping wounds.
Swaggering through the fortress Wednesday in a long brown robe cinched by a wide black leather belt, northern alliance Gen. Rashid Dostum insisted the prisoners were treated properly but had nonetheless rebelled.
"We did not tie them. We brought them here to be safer," he told reporters.
Dostum is one of Afghanistan's most feared and notorious warlords. When his fighters took Mazar-e-Sharif from the Taliban in 1997, they threw prisoners into wells and tossed in grenades to finish them off, the United Nations reported.
The Taliban settled the score when they recaptured the city in 1998; a U.N. report charged the Islamic militia with executing thousands of people, many under severe torture.