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Northern Alliance Says Some Taliban Soldiers Defecting

Aired October 19, 2001 - 04:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SHIHAB RATTANSI, CNN ANCHOR: There have been reports by Afghan groups and even from the Bush administration of defections from the Taliban. Even the Taliban Foreign Minister was reported to have fled to Pakistan although that proved false.

Matthew Chance now standing by in northern Afghanistan with more -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Shihab, there have been these renewed reports of mass defections from the ranks of the Taliban to those of the Northern Alliance forces. I'll give you the latest on that in a moment.

Let me just bring you up to date, though, quickly on the military situation, more reports of continuing fighting around the strategically important northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Northern Alliance forces say they're now just three kilometers from the outskirts of the city. We've got no independent verification of that. Obviously we'll bring you the latest details as soon as they come down through tours (ph) here on the ground in Jabral Surage (ph) in northern Afghanistan.

In the meantime, as you said, mass defections. Renewed reports of them coming through to us of Taliban fighters over to the Northern Alliance. Earlier, we managed to meet one of the groups that said it switched sides from the Taliban to the Northern Alliance in the last few weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former fighters of the Taliban, now heavily armed defectors to a resurgent opposition. For weeks, the Northern Alliance has claimed mass defections to its ranks. Hundreds are said to have switched sides. These are the first of those calling themselves ex-Taliban fighters we actually met. They number just 10.

Abdel Kayoom (ph) says he fought with the Taliban for three years, and as his new comrades in arms looked on, he told us why he left. "They exploded bombs in America, and they killed the Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masoud," he says. "We don't have any good memories of the Taliban; they're just terrorists."

It seems the line between the Taliban and associates of Osama bin Laden simply isn't acknowledged here.

Away from the crowds, we sat with a second self-declared defector, Abdul Gefal (ph), another long-serving Taliban fighter. He told us his group came from front lines, north of Kabul. Three hundred Taliban, he said, wanted to switch sides, but he and his nine friends were the only ones that came.

"The Taliban are demoralized and scared," he said. "I can't say how long they will last, but their days are numbered."

Alliance commanders say the more U.S. bombs that fall on Taliban positions, the more defectors they're likely to see.

(on camera): It may seem like an easy way of scoring publicity points at the expense of the Taliban, but attracting defectors is a key military strategy of the Northern Alliance. For an army with limited weapons and ammunition, each defector is one less man to fight.

(voice-over): As yet, these isolated defections fall short of collapse in the Taliban ranks. But this conflict is no stranger to changing alliances and fighters switching sides, and the hope of the opposition is that more of this will turn the tide.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE (on camera): Well, Northern Alliance officials have already spoken of gaining territory without a shot being fired as a result of negotiation with warlords and defections from the ranks of the Taliban to their own. They've even spoken of the possibility that at some point marching on the capital itself without a shot being fired, without a battle, again, through defections. Though I can tell you, Shihab, at this stage, the tense situation down on the front line over there north of Kabul makes that look like a very distant hope indeed.

Back to you in Atlanta.

RATTANSI: Matthew Chance, thank you very much.

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