In northern Afghanistan, news of attack welcomed

Word travels slowly in area controlled by anti-Taliban forces

War On Terorism

The World

October 08, 2001|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

FEYZABAD, Afghanistan - In a city without electricity, telephones or paved roads, news travels slowly, especially after dusk.

Someone listening to shortwave radio after dark, here in northern Afghanistan, hears first. He tells a neighbor.

Soon another neighbor hears: The Americans are bombing Taliban-controlled parts of the country, well to the south.

This city, in the sliver of the country controlled by the Northern Alliance, turned over in its sleep without fully awakening.

Five men gathered around a radio in a hotel and listened intently to the Voice of America broadcasting in Dari. A few houses blessed with the luxury of generators turned on their lights.

But that was all.

After all, the Americans had been expected.

"If they can bring peace, then I am happy," said 20-year-old Kayhan, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name.

It's the Americans' help in battling the Taliban that he welcomes, not the prospect that they might remain involved in the country's affairs for months or years.

Warning to U.S. forces

"If they occupy our country, I will fight against them like my father and brother fought against the Russians," he said.

At least some Northern Alliance commanders seemed to have known about the attack in advance.

Alliance forces that control an airbase about 25 miles north of the capital, Kabul, fired rockets, about an hour after the U.S.-led strikes began, at Taliban forces that control the surrounding mountains.

The Taliban returned fire with rockets of their own.

Firing on Taliban troops

At another Alliance position near the capital, a commander said he was firing on Taliban troops who were leaving the capital for the front line.

The shells exploded near what appeared to be a line of vehicles traveling on a road out of the city.

Alliance commanders had also warned Afghans during the day to stay away from military bases. There were reports, too, that the Alliance had closed its airspace, apparently to prevent the U.S.-led forces from targeting friendly aircraft.

"If they just attack the Taliban, the military bases - if they smoke them out of Afghanistan - I am happy about that," said Seyed Kamal, who ended his university studies in Kabul after the Taliban took control.

But, he added, "I'm worried about my friends."

And now there was no way to contact them.

Dangerous road

During the day, a truck carrying crates of mortar shells lumbered on the main road.

The road is, at its best, twin ruts that turn into dusty track that disappears into streams and clings to mountain sides.

It narrows to one lane and sometimes barely that.

Teen-agers carrying AK-47 rifles greet the passing cars.

Sleepy town

The news of military action arrived here after dark.

A silver half-moon illuminated the mud-brick houses, and the sky held thousands of stars. The Kowkcheh River murmured steadily.

The town looked as if it had been asleep 100 years.

The radio was in the inelegant establishment named Hotel No. 1. Some of the employees were listening to VOA and Radio France International, and they lay on thin mats.

It was big news, indeed: The Americans had arrived.

Feyzabad then went back to sleep, for at least one more night.

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