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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition Claims Victories in North

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Two days after a major victory in a key northern city, anti-Taliban forces claimed Sunday they were routing the Taliban throughout northern Afghanistan, capturing the former opposition headquarters of Taloqan and other major strongholds.

A Taliban official denied Taloqan had been overrun, and the claim could not be independently verified. Clearly, however, it appeared the Taliban was in full retreat in the north, possibly to reorganize its forces around Kabul and southern strongholds of its ethnic Pashtun base.

U.S. aircraft, including B-52 bombers, roamed the skies, blasting Taliban positions on the front line about 50 kilometers north of Kabul and seeking out retreating bands of Taliban fighters.

Jubilant opposition spokesmen claimed the Taliban had been routed in the north, except in Kunduz province on the border with Tajikistan and in Badghis province on the border with Turkmenistan.

Opposition forces planned to move into Kunduz late Sunday, said opposition spokesman Mohammed Abil.

Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province, fell Sunday after a fierce battle outside the city with Taliban forces that included Arabs and Pakistanis, Abil said. Once that line of defense crumbled, opposition fighters swiftly occupied the city, he said.

Taloqan is about 230 kilometers east of Mazar-i-Sharif, a key northern city that fell to the opposition Friday, and some 260 kilometers north of the capital, Kabul.

Abdul Hanan Hemat, chief of the Taliban's Bakhtar news agency, denied claims that Taloqan had fallen. "They are lying," he said.

Another opposition spokesman, Ashraf Nadeem, said Taliban troops also withdrew from the key road junction town of Pul-e-Khumri in Baghlan province and that Taliban forces in the area were headed toward central Bamiyan province west of Kabul.

The opposition said its fortunes in Bamiyan were bolstered after a Taliban commander there switched sides after seeing the battlefield momentum swing against him. The defection of the commander, Isamuddin, cut off the road for Taliban troops retreating from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul and isolated those still in the north, Abil said.

The report of the Taliban commander's defection could not be independently verified.

Elsewhere, opposition official Noor Ahmad said advancing anti-Taliban troops seized Qala-i-Nau, capital of Badghis province, and were about 60 kilometers east of the major city of Herat.

Despite some confusion over specific claims, the Taliban has acknowledged that its troops are withdrawing southward following weeks of round-the-clock U.S. bombing of their positions in the north.

After seizing Mazar-i-Sharif, the opposition threatened to launch a major attack on Kabul within days. However, U.S. President George W. Bush said Saturday that opposition troops should steer clear of Kabul until a broad-based government including all ethnic groups could be formed.

General Alim Khan, a senior opposition commander along the front line north of Kabul, confirmed the offensive toward the capital had been delayed.

n?Pakistan has deported a British journalist, the British Foreign Office confirmed Saturday. Christina Lamb, correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph, was detained by Pakistani authorities Friday and deported from Quetta in Pakistan.

Her newspaper said that before she was deported, Lamb had uncovered evidence of a covert operation by rogue elements in the Pakistani military intelligence service to smuggle arms to the Taliban.