WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. airstrikes helped the Northern Alliance quell a prison riot Sunday by hard-core Taliban captives in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, alliance and Pentagon sources said.
Alliance spokesman told journalists in Mazar-i-Sharif that hundreds of foreign Taliban fighters were killed in the counterattack. Most of them were Pakistani, Arab and Chechen nationals captured Saturday while fighting alongside the Taliban in the northern city of Konduz.
The alliance forces now have entered Konduz, reportedly capturing all but a small pocket of Taliban resistance.
A reporter for Time magazine told CNN that two U.S. soldiers were caught up in the fight and one of them was killed.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, told United Press International "no military personnel were injured" in the fighting. But he said the Pentagon could not speak for those working for CIA or other agencies of the U.S. government, or for any contractors.
Mazar-i-Sharif is a stronghold of the alliance's Uzbek warlord, Gen. Rasheed Dostum, who operates from a mud fort outside the city. Called Qala-i-Jangi or "the war-fort," it also serves as Dostum's prison.
"About 300 non-Afghan Taliban smuggled weapons with them into the holding area and created a firefight," said Stoneking. "Dostum brought in 500 of his forces to counter the attack. U.S. provided airstrikes support and the Northern Alliance now has control of the situation."
Alex Perry of Time magazine, who witnessed the fighting, said about 800 mainly non-Afghan Taliban fighters overpowered their guards at Qala-i-Jangi and rebelled against their captors.
Perry said two U.S. soldiers, who were among dozens of special forces troops liaising with the Northern Alliance, were caught in the rebellion. He said one was killed and U.S. and British forces were trying to rescue the other.
"Hours after the rebellion, U.S. and British special forces arrived there to save the life of their comrade. They ordered precision airstrikes to try and kill the remaining Taliban and to wipe out the Taliban resistance there," said Perry.
No U.S. soldiers have been reported killed or wounded since the military operation against the Taliban began Oct. 7. Two soldiers earlier died in an accident when a U.S. helicopter crashed in southern Pakistan near the Afghan border.
Although the Northern Alliance claimed the rebellion was pre-planned, Perry said he believed it was "spontaneous." According to him the Northern Alliance had disarmed the Taliban "pretty haphazardly." One Taliban fighter, he said, managed to bring a grenade with him and blew himself up along with two alliance commanders.
Alliance said most of the Taliban fighters kept in the fort belonged to the al Qaida network of Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.
They surrendered to the Northern Alliance on Saturday along with thousands of Afghan Taliban.
Meanwhile, alliance's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said alliance troops had "liberated all but a small pocket" inside Konduz.
Northern Alliance forces entered Konduz Sunday evening and pushed its hard-core defenders to the western part of the city.
Alliance commanders said their troops faced little resistance while entering the last Taliban enclave in northern Afghanistan.
Talking to journalists at their headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif, the commanders said they hoped the rest of the city would also fall without much bloodshed.
The alliance had earlier captured a key strategic village, about 10 miles east of Konduz. Residents said they saw about 200 Pakistani Taliban fleeing the village of Khanabad after a brief gunbattle that lasted less than an hour.
The alliance ordered all Taliban forces in the area to surrender by Sunday evening or face an all-out attack. While the Afghan Taliban appeared willing to surrender, the mainly Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters were reluctant. They feared they would be executed if they surrendered to the Northern Alliance.
Reports from Konduz said a promise by the alliance's top leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, to hand over hard-core non-Afghan fighters to the United Nations encouraged many foreigners to lay down arms as well. Some alliance commanders had earlier vowed to kill the foreign Taliban as war criminals.
Rabbani's offer of "a blanket amnesty" to all Afghan Taliban further isolated the foreign militants as many Afghan fighters accepted the offer.
Rabbani, whose Jamiyat-i-Islami party still holds the Afghan seat in the United Nations, said that all Afghan Taliban will be free to go back to their villages once they surrender their weapons.
"We would like to find a solution for the non-Afghans as well ... we want to hand them over to the UN ... It is up to the UN to do whatever they want," Rabbani told a news briefing Sunday in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
An estimated 12,000 Taliban fighters, including 2,000 to 3,000 foreigners, were trapped in Konduz last week when the alliance captured most of northern Afghanistan. On Nov. 13, the alliance captured Kabul and forced the Taliban to flee to its southern stronghold of Kandahar.
The hard-core Taliban inside Konduz, however, continued to resist the alliance and vowed to fight till death. But continuous U.S. bombings weakened their resolve and by Friday groups of Afghan fighters began to surrender to the alliance.
Several thousand Taliban troops had surrendered to the alliance by Sunday afternoon, including some of the hard-core Pakistani, Arab and Chechen fighters.
Despite the initial success, the Northern Alliance continued to prepare for a final assault on the town should the remaining Taliban forces refuse to surrender.
The alliance is believed to have sent an estimated 30,000 troops to the area for the expected assault. Witnesses saw dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces moving to the front.
Alliance officials in Kabul told journalists that the surrendering Afghan Taliban were taken to another northern town of Taloquan where some of them could be asked to join the fight against the religious militia in the south.
The non-Afghan Taliban, however, were being shifted to Mazar-i-Sharif where the alliance hoped to hand them over to the United Nations. So far the United Nations has no facility in Afghanistan to accept the surrendering troops.
Earlier reports had claimed that "mysterious Pakistani planes" had evacuated Pakistani fighters from Konduz. But U.S. officials said the U.S. enjoyed complete control over Afghanistan's airspace and had not allowed any plane to land inside Konduz.
The alliance's foreign minister told CBS on Sunday he had not received any report of Pakistani planes landing inside Konduz.
He confirmed Rabbani's offer of amnesty to Afghan Taliban fighters but said it did not apply to Taliban leaders. "(Taliban leader) Mullah Mohammed Omar is a war criminal. There are hundreds of others ... they will be considered war criminals."
Replying to a question about the fate of foreign Taliban fighters, he said: "There is no amnesty for terrorists in Afghanistan. They are terrorists and will be treated as terrorists."
Abdullah said that after the fall of Konduz, the Taliban have been confined to "a small area in the south. And in a matter of days (the Taliban stronghold of) Kandahar will also fall."