Rebels Take Key Afghan Stronghold

KABUL -- Afghan factions fighting the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani have captured the main western city of Herat and the northwestern province of Badghis, government and UN officials said on Tuesday.

An Afghan government spokesman confirmed that Herat had fallen overnight to the Taliban Islamic movement.

Jumbish-i-Milli forces of northern warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum captured Badghis on Monday, cutting the road linking Herat with the Turkmenistan border, UN officials in Kabul and Jumbish sources in neighboring Pakistan said.

The loss of Herat is a major blow to Rabbani's government, whose allies had controlled the city since the collapse of a communist-led government in Kabul in April 1992.

The government's loss follows the Taleban's capture on Sunday of Afghanistan's second biggest airbase at Shindand, about 120 kilometers south of the city.

UN officials in Herat said the city was calm after its capture. They had no word on casualties.

A Red Cross worker contacted by radio said he had seen burned-out vehicles in the city's streets, indicating that some fighting had taken place.

"Otherwise, everything is calm and peaceful," he said, adding that Taliban seemed to have taken full control of the city.

Another foreign aid worker contacted in Herat by radio from Kabul said the Taliban appeared to have outflanked the city's beleaguered defenders by driving armored vehicles across the desert along the Iranian border Monday night.

"They entered the town virtually without firing a shot," said the aid worker, who asked not to be named.

He said that the authorities had tried to throw conscripts into the battle against Taliban, but many had refused to fight.

Other foreign aid workers said forces loyal to Dostum had advanced through Badghis province and captured its capital, Qala-i-Nua, which is about 110 kilometers northwest of Herat.

They said guerrillas of the opposition Shi'ite Moslem Hezb-i-Wahdat faction were also reported to have surrounded the government-held town of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.