Kunduz falls amid looting, chaos

Hospital ransacked

U.N. relief supplies, trucks among booty

War On Terrorism

November 27, 2001|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan - The cabinets at Kunduz Public Hospital were smashed and looted, trash and filth were everywhere, wide puddles of blood pooled on the floor, a Taliban fighter lay dead on a rug and another lay dying, and Dr. Mohammed Usman was furious.

Not only had the hospital been stripped bare of medicine, bandages and other supplies by the retreating Taliban, but all its doctors had been conscripted by Northern Alliance commanders to minister to their wounded, leaving hundreds here uncared for.

Usman is not on the staff - he works for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan - but he had come in yesterday to offer help and found himself working alone. There wasn't much he could do.

"Everything that was here was brought in by the United Nations," he said. "And the Taliban took it all away today. The Taliban came and wrecked everything, took everything."

Kunduz fell, finally, to the Northern Alliance yesterday, but only after an ambush and battle at the main crossroads delayed the advance until about 9 a.m. - hours after the city had supposedly been secured. Bodies were left on the street to be picked up later by men pushing carts, and Northern Alliance soldiers rounded up suspected Taliban fighters through the day. But most of the Taliban had evacuated the city and headed for Chordara.

A U.S. warplane inadvertently bombed a Northern Alliance position before the takeover, killing a commander and several men.

Kunduz, a Taliban stronghold, was tense and mostly shut down yesterday. Impassive crowds lined the streets, watching the Northern Alliance troops, in contrast to the joyous reception the soldiers received when they entered Taloqan 12 days ago.

Most of the bazaar was shuttered, though a few intrepid vendors were selling radishes and pomegranates.

Shots rang out through the day.

At the hospital, all was in chaos. Men lay moaning in the wards. Usman pointed out wreckage and trash everywhere. Usually, 25 doctors would be working here. A Taliban soldier in what must have been the emergency room lay with a mangled leg, but Usman couldn't find out much from him because his neck had been pierced by shrapnel and he couldn't talk.

Among the more able-bodied patients was Bashir Umarkhan, whose hand was wrapped in thick layers of bandage turned purple-black from blood. He had been in the bazaar when someone hit it Sunday with a rocket and was wounded by shrapnel. Yesterday, he was up and about and watching Usman work, offering a steady commentary.

As Usman stitched up a hand wound, prolonged bursts of gunfire could be heard nearby.

Akhmad Talibjon, who brought a wounded Taliban fighter to the hospital and decided to stick around, said the Taliban weren't the only ones to have looted it.

Though Kunduz was taken yesterday by Gen. Daoud Khan, the Taliban had been negotiating for several days with his Northern Alliance rival, Gen. Rashid Dostum.

A Dostum delegation had been in the city since late last week, the Taliban fighter said, and his troops had worked side by side with Taliban soldiers to strip the hospital of supplies.

The allegation could not be confirmed, though people elsewhere in the city said they had heard rumors to that effect. Khan, in a news conference here yesterday afternoon, said he knew Dostum and his bodyguards had been in Kunduz, but had no other details.

The taking of booty plays a large part in the Afghan conflict. When Khan's troops, mostly from the northeastern province of Badakhshan, arrived yesterday, there wasn't much of military value left to seize. By late afternoon, commandeered trucks were being taken back to Taloqan, but they were in such bad shape that most were being towed.

Residents said most of the looting that had taken place early in the day in the commercial district was carried out by neither Taliban fighters nor Northern Alliance troops but by enterprising locals.

"They took whatever is sold - wheat, tents, things that belonged to the U.N.," said Jamshed Abdulwahob, a shop clerk. The Taliban, he said, had removed most of their military equipment days before.

Abdulwahob and others said fighting in the city was not intense, but very chaotic. As always, the moment when fortunes shift in a war tends to be the least predictable and most dangerous.

"There was a lot of shooting, and you couldn't tell who was fighting who," said Khalid Gaznavi, a local photographer.

The ambush at the crossroads left seven or eight dead, according to Abdul Hafiz, who commands a special detachment of police troops sent into Kunduz. Hafiz said all of the dead were Taliban, including some foreigners.

The number of casualties here yesterday is unknown, but Khan said hundreds had been killed in fighting along the 40-mile stretch of road between Taloqan and Kunduz. Evidently, the Northern Alliance met with stiffer resistance than expected. Khan reported Sunday evening that the city had been taken, but residents said his troops did not begin moving in until about 9 a.m. yesterday.

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