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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban's Retreat Puts Recruits From Pakistan in Dire Straits

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- When Afghan opposition forces came racing on horseback and foot into the ancient city of Mazar-i-Sharif, they suddenly discovered how quickly Taliban fighters had abandoned the town.

According to accounts Saturday from Northern Alliance commanders and residents in the city, Taliban soldiers retreated so swiftly they left behind hundreds of recently arrived Pakistani volunteers who had come to fight with the Taliban. The Pakistanis were abandoned near the city's central, blue-tiled mosque.

Fired with the zeal of the call to holy war, they had crossed the border from Pakistan and arrived in Mazar-i-Sharif, which means "Great Grave," just two days before.

When their Taliban commanders left them behind, "they didn't know the city, and they didn't know where to go," said Mohammed Hasham Saad, the Northern Alliance envoy in Tashkent, who received detailed reports from the embattled city. The trapped Pakistanis tried to hide, taking refuge in two buildings on opposite sides of the grand square that serves as the city's center. One was Sultan Razia, a girls' religious school. The other, ironically, was the mansion of a former opposition commander.

Outside, the streets were filled with the shouts of Northern Alliance soldiers who chased through the byways, searching for Taliban stragglers, according to Khair Mohammed, 23, who runs a small telephone service in the city.

Habibullah Anvari, an officer with the forces of Abdul Rashid Dostum, one of two Northern Alliance commanders who led the raid, said enemy stragglers either surrendered or were killed. "Those who did not fight against us surrendered by raising their hands. Those who did not surrender were killed," he said. "There are bodies laying on the roads here," he added. "I think about 200 Taliban died."

The grim pattern of Afghanistan's long wars is one of bloody revenge by victors. But the Northern Alliance forces know they are in the intense international spotlight and have been warned by their commanders not to take revenge. "We didn't want to kill [the Pakistanis]," Saad insisted. "We took them to jail. Our courts will deal with them."