TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ The northern alliance is preparing for a major offensive against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban while U.S. forces bombard the regime's power bases, a top strategist for the anti-Taliban militia said Monday.
``We are in a state of absolute readiness,'' Touryali Ghiasi told The Associated Press by telephone from his base in the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad. ``We are preparing to move.''
Ghiasi, who was a top aide to slain northern alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massood, said the militia's latest campaign could begin as early as Tuesday. He gave no details of the immediate military objectives of the alliance, which holds about 10 percent of northern Afghanistan.
Massood was fatally wounded in a Sept. 9 suicide attack by assassins posing as journalists.
Alliance leaders claim Massood was killed on orders of the Taliban and Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, held responsible by the United States for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The U.S. air strikes, launched Sunday, also seek to destroy facilities linked to bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.
Ghiasi said most Taliban offices and military sites are not near populated areas, ``so we don't expect many civilian causalities.''
He said his information indicates the Taliban ministries for defense, information and interior were destroyed in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Also, the key Darulaman military base west of the city was hit, he said.
In the northern Kunduz province, an ammunition dump exploded in a huge fireball after apparently being hit by U.S. rockets, he said.
Afghanistan has been in almost constant conflict since the 1979 invasion of Soviet forces. U.S.-backed guerrillas who drove out the Soviets after a decade-long war eventually formed the power base for the Taliban, which seized control of Kabul in 1996.
Afghanistan's former king, who lives in Rome, has held talks with northern alliance envoys to begin forming a new government that could replace the Taliban if it is toppled.
Iran opposes the Taliban, calling its puritanical version of Islam an affront to the faith and accusing it of profiting from drug smuggling that passes through Iran. Iran has provided arms to the northern alliance.