In fort devastated by uprising, a field of Taliban bodies, some with tied hands

Wednesday, November 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AP) _ In a fortress devastated by a bloody three-day uprising, alliance fighters dragged out bodies Wednesday from a courtyard strewn with 50 slain Taliban fighters, some with hands bound with black scarves.

Northern alliance fighters used knives and scissors to cut off the scarves and hauled the bodies to another courtyard, where Red Cross workers wearing rubber gloves loaded the corpses onto trailers attached to tractors.

Alliance officials on Wednesday allowed reporters into the sprawling mud-walled Qalai Janghi fort, where the scene was one of almost complete destruction. Walls were demolished and windows shattered. A northern alliance commander said two Taliban were still at large and possibly hiding among the dead.

Heavy fighting erupted Sunday when hundreds of Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and other non-Afghans who had fought with the Taliban were brought to the fortress after the weekend surrender of Kunduz, the Islamic militia's last stronghold in the north.

The pro-Taliban fighters held out amid fighting and heavy U.S. airstrikes, until an assault Tuesday coordinated by U.S. special forces and other troops, believed to be British. The CIA said Wednesday that one of its officers, Johnny M. Spann, had been killed in the fighting, though it did not reveal the circumstances. Five U.S. soldiers were seriously wounded Monday when a U.S. bomb went astray.

An Associated Press photographer Wednesday saw a field of about 50 bodies laid out in the southern part of the fort. He watched as northern alliance fighters cut the scarves from the bound hands of some of the corpses. At least one fighter pried gold fillings from a corpse.

Within the compound, a dead Taliban soldier lay in the dust, his arms outstretched toward the sky. Other victims, even a horse, had been blown apart.

It was unclear how many Taliban and northern alliance fighters were killed in the revolt. Gen. Rashid Dostum, a senior northern alliance commander whose headquarters is in the fort, said Wednesday 30 of his fighters were killed and 200 wounded. Alliance officials said earlier that some 450 Taliban were killed.

Dostum, touring the complex Wednesday, warned journalists to stay away from the southern section of the fort where the prisoners had been held, including the field with the bodies.

He said there were ``two dangerous people'' still at large who ``may be lying among the corpses. They are suicidal people and one can expect anything from them.''

The ethnic Uzbek leader, dressed in a flowing brown robe and a black leather jacket, denied his forces had tied the hands of the prisoners.

``We did not tie them. We brought them here to be safer,'' Dostum told reporters. ``We behaved brotherly with them,'' he said. ``We treated prisoners according to human rights.''

Shabudin, a northern alliance fighter who uses one name, said his comrades had been tying the hands of some fighters who were believed to be Arabs at some point early in the revolt, when some Taliban grabbed guns and began shooting.

In London, Amnesty International called Tuesday for an inquiry into the ``proportionality of the response'' by alliance fighters and U.S. and British military personnel to the revolt by Taliban prisoners.

Northern alliance troops wandered among the bodies of fighters from both sides Wednesday. Red Cross vehicles loaded with corpses could not make their way out of the fort until pine trees damaged in the fighting were cleared away from the road.

Two Taliban leaders toured the complex with Dostum. One of them, Noorullah Noori, claimed their forces did not intend to revolt.

Noori, the former Taliban governor of Balkh province, of which Mazar-e-Sharif is the capital, said he had told the Taliban fighters ``to submit your guns and armaments to Gen. Dostum's forces'' and surrender. ``I feel sad about these events. It really was in vain,'' he said. ``It shouldn't have happened.''

Mullah Fazel, who said he was a top official in the Taliban defense ministry, sat with his hands trembling and refused to say anything.

Dostum claimed the revolt started Saturday after a grenade attack by Taliban prisoners killed two of his best generals. Another general was sent Sunday to assure the prisoners would be treated well.

``But they once again attacked my general,'' Dostum said. More grenades were thrown, then the Taliban fighters seized more weapons and attacked towers in the fort, which is Dostum's headquarters.

On Tuesday, U.S. military officials said 30 to 40 men had been holding out in the sprawling Qalai Janghi complex, outside of the town of Mazar-e-Sharif. But the fighting quieted Tuesday night.

Dostum claimed his forces were holding another 6,000 Taliban prisoners in the nearby town of Sheberghan.

Simon Brooks, chief of an international Red Cross delegation, also would not estimate a total death toll. He said Red Cross officials had been at the fort Sunday trying to get information on prisoners. ``We had no suspicions'' that the situation was about to go out of control, Brooks said.