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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban Bombs Hit Peace Talk Hopes

KABUL -- Taliban warplanes flew repeated bombing missions over the battlefield north of Kabul on Friday and the fundamentalist Islamic movement signalled strongly that ceasefire talks were dead, witnesses said.


As two Soviet-era warplanes flew north at least half a dozen times on Friday, a Taliban preacher at Kabul's main mosque branded northern Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum "a former communist and a criminal."


Two days ago, a leading Taliban official was saying there was no problems with Dostum as ceasefire talks were under way, despite his new alliance with former government military chief Ahmad Shah Masood and his dispatch of men to the front lines.


On Wednesday, acting Information Minister Amir Khan Mutaqi said Dostum was a man the Taliban could do business with, unless he committed his forces to the battle north of Kabul.


But on Thursday, Mutaqi was quoted by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press, AIP, as saying Dostum had done just that.


On Friday, the mullah preaching at Kabul's Blue Mosque used his sermon to revert to the language the Taliban had used against Dostum before taking the capital four weeks ago.


The mullah, with four armed bodyguards at his side, also called Masood a "Dostum commander," suggesting that the Uzbek leader was now regarded as the main enemy.


The bodyguards declined to name the mullah, telling one reporter "That's none of your business," after armed Taliban had herded dozens of people into the mosque, beating some of them with sticks and lashes, the witnesses said.


The mullah's denunciation of Dostum, a former communist general who switched sides just before mujahidden guerrillas finally ousted a Moscow-backed government in 1992, coincided with what appeared to be heavy Taliban bombing.


Witnesses said two warplanes flying north had been loaded with 100-kilogram bombs.


At the same time, Taliban artillery fired at the village of Kalakan where at least 14 civilians were killed by a Taliban bomber on Thursday.


Masood commanders have been operating out of Kalakan, 25 kilometers north of Kabul, as their forces tried to break through Taliban lines during the past few days.


A Reuters correspondent reported from the northern side of the front lines that one warplane tried to bomb the town of Jabal os-Siraj, some 70 kilometers north of Kabul.


The bomb landed in a field and no one was hurt. There were no immediate reports of what the targets of the other raids were.


Dostum had been conducting ceasefire talks with the Taliban brokered by Pakistan and United Nations Special Envoy Norbert Holl.


Holl had been scheduled to fly to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Thursday, where the Taliban have their headquarters, but there was no word on whether he achieved a breakthrough.


Masood's men have been trying to take the De Sabz pass on the so-called new road that then rolls across the eastern side of the dusty plain to Kabul some 30 kilometers away.


Military analysts in Kabul say the alliance needs to wrest the pass from Taliban control and move down the new road to cover the flank of Masood's forces battling down the main road that runs parallel near the western side of the plain.