Taliban Capture Airbase

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's Taliban militia captured a key airbase and a town north of the capital Kabul in a big offensive Thursday, Taliban sources and witnesses said.

The Taliban sources said their fighters had seized Bagram airbase and the town of Charikar, about 50 kilometers from the Afghan capital, in heavy fighting against forces loyal to ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

But a spokesman for the ousted government's top military commander Ahmad Shah Masood, quoted by Iranian television, denied the fall of Bagram or any change of frontlines there. In Kabul, a Taliban interim government minister said the Islamic movement's leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had made donations to the poor of the capital and three other cities to celebrate Thursday's victory.

Acting Information and Culture Minister Amir Khan Mutaqi told reporters that 100 million afghanis ($3,635) had been made available for Kabul and 50 million afghanis each for Jalalabad, Kandahar and Herat.

A spokesman at Taliban headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar said its forces had captured 500 opposition fighters as they thrust north.

"We are now advancing north of Charikar," Sayed Mohammed Haqqani told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.

Iranian television quoted Masood's spokesman as rejecting the report about the fall of Bagram and saying there had been no changes in the frontlines between the Taliban and the opposition Supreme Council for the Defense of Afghanistan. He said the council forces still controlled Bagram.

But witnesses who visited the Taliban's new front line in Charikar, capital of Parwan province, said the town was deserted.