Northern alliance fighters claim to put down uprising by Taliban prisoners

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AP) _ Dozens of shattered bodies lay in the dusty courtyard of a mud-walled Afghan fortress prison Tuesday as the northern alliance claimed to have ended a three-day uprising by Taliban prisoners with the help of American airstrikes and U.S. special forces.

U.S. military officials said 30 to 40 men still were holding out in the sprawling Qalai Janghi complex. ``It is not yet fully under control,'' Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads the war effort in Afghanistan, told reporters in Florida.

Northern alliance troops turned back journalists trying to enter the complex outside the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Tuesday night, making it impossible to confirm whether fighting had ended.

But representatives of the international Red Cross said late Tuesday that they were working to arrange for burials Wednesday _ an indication the battle had abated.

``The situation is completely under control. All of them were killed,'' said Alim Razim, political adviser to Gen. Rashid Dostum, the northern alliance commander responsible for Qalai Janghi.

The postscript from three days of fighting was grisly; the remains of soldiers from both sides lay around the prison, where non-Afghans who fought alongside the Taliban had been locked up since Sunday.

One television report showed some 60 bodies, believed to be Taliban, scattered across a courtyard. In another spot, a body believed to be that of a Pakistani Talib lay in a ditch, and villagers said he had been strangled with a rope. One man, laughing, picked up the body by its robe and kicked it in the head. Another villager posed over the dead man, holding a knife.

The hundreds of captives at Qalai Janghi _ which means ``Fortress of War'' _ held out for days, despite heavy U.S. airstrikes and thousands of northern alliance fighters from around the region coming to reinforce local troops. U.S. special forces and other troops believed to be British also participated in the battle and coordinated airstrikes.

By Tuesday night, Razim said his troops had seized the last mortar the prisoners had been using.

The fighting began Sunday when hundreds of Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and other non-Afghans fighting alongside the Taliban were brought to the fortress as part of the weekend surrender of Kunduz, the Islamic militia's last stronghold in the north. Once inside, the men stormed the armory and rose up against their alliance captors.

Five U.S. soldiers were seriously wounded in the battle Monday when a U.S. bomb went astray, exploding near the Americans. They arrived Tuesday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Frankfurt, Germany, spokeswoman Marie Shaw said. She declined to give details of their condition.

five were evacuated, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington. Their identities were not released.

U.S. officials were also trying to learn what happened to a CIA operative who was feared killed in the uprising. It wasn't clear whether he had been captured, killed or injured, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday in Washington.

Early Tuesday, the aerial bombardment on the fortress sent up showers of sparks visible from Mazar-e-Sharif, nine miles away, and appeared to trigger further explosions of ammunition inside the compound. As dawn broke, a loud explosion rattled windows in the city.

Even after the heavy strikes, some prisoners held out throughout much of the day, lobbing mortar shells that landed inside and outside the fortress' turreted walls, kicking up clouds of dust. Clouds of black smoke rose from inside the fortress and tank fire could also be heard mixed in with bursts of machine-gun fire.

Trucks carrying 200 northern alliance fighters from more than a province away also arrived at the fortress in the morning _ one truck equipped with a Soviet-made anti-aircraft gun in the back.

A tank sat overturned Tuesday on the fortress walls in the area where the bomb hit. The prisoners also took advantage of the huge hole in the fortifications left by the bomb to climb trees and take shots at troops waiting to move in from about 550 yards away.

Desert camouflage-clad U.S. special forces and soldiers who appeared to be British moved in and out of the fort, some carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles, others toting guns fitted with laserscopes and making calls with specialized communication equipment.

Razim, the northern alliance official, declined to say how many Taliban captives were in the fortress Tuesday, but said that in all, about 450 had been involved in the uprising.

Footage shot by the private Turkish station NTV showed some 60 bodies of Taliban fighters in the courtyard of the fortress, and northern alliance soldiers walking past the corpses. Footage shot by Fox News on Tuesday showed a northern alliance fighter shot next to a fortress wall; he then rolled down a hill where he was cared for by his colleagues.

Outside the fort, an Associated Press photographer saw the bodies of eight northern alliance soldiers and about six wounded alliance fighters on Tuesday. The bodies of three escaped Taliban prisoners, who appeared to be Pakistanis, lay in a ditch _ including the one who was apparently strangled.

Alliance officers said Monday that about 40 of their troops died in the uprising, along with hundreds of resisters.