Taleban authorities in Afghanistan acknowledge their forces have lost the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif to the opposition Northern Alliance.
Taleban officials said today (Saturday) their forces made a strategic withdrawal from the city in order to save it from destruction after heavy bombing by U-S warplanes. They said their soldiers were regrouping west of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The Northern Alliance says its troops have overrun Hairatan, the last major town in Afghanistan south of the border with Uzbekistan, and are advancing toward other key locations.
Newly-captured territory by the Northern Alliance opens supply and humanitarian land routes to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Mazar-e-Sharif also has northern Afghanistan's major airfield.
The taking of Mazar-e-Sharif is the most visible success for the anti-Taleban opposition so far since the beginning of the U-S led attacks in Afghanistan on October seventh. U-S bombers today (Saturday) shifted their targeting to Taleban front-line positions near the Afghan capital, Kabul. Hundreds of opposition troops backed by tanks are reported to be massing in the area.
Opposition leaders say they are preparing for a offensive on the capital. But U-S Secretary of State Colin Powell has cautioned the Northern Alliance to stay out of the Kabul, saying its ethnic makeup is different from most of the city's residents.
Pashtuns -- the same ethnic group as the Taleban -- make up the majority in Kabul and much of Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance is mostly ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.
Mr. Powell has suggested making Kabul an "open city" until a interim government is established to restore order and govern Afghanistan.