Joy in the Streets After Taliban Flee Kabul

Freshly shaven residents of the Afghan capital of Kabul blared music in the streets Tuesday, flouting the Spartan rules that an unwelcome Taliban, now departed, had so stringently imposed.

"We are free!" shouted Noor Mohammed, as he danced with the tape player pressed to his ear.

The hard-line Islamic militia fled Kabul on Tuesday as opposition forces aided by U.S. planes massed outside the city. Their withdrawal after a five-year occupation touched off celebrations throughout the city of more than one million people

"Look, this feels so good," Ahmed Shah said as he felt his newly shaven face. "I hated the beard. It was always itchy."

Elsewhere, residents of the Afghan capital peered through the open doors of abandoned Taliban military bases and whispered to each other: "Are they gone?"

In a rickety old bus, one woman briefly flipped her burqa, the all-enveloping traditional veil made mandatory by the Taliban, up over her head. Male residents who were gathering around a group of Northern Alliance soldiers laughed.

But more cautious women were not ready to abandon the head-to-toe covering. One young soldier gestured to the women to take their burqas off, but none did. Most of the women simply watched the soldiers, some closed the curtains that are on all buses that carry women in Afghanistan. Others simply looked away.

"For now we will leave the burqa on. We don't know yet who are these people in the city," said Mariam Jan.

Her husband, an ethnic Tajik, Mohammed Wazir, said "it is our tradition. We are not sure that it will stop."

In another part of the city, people gathered to gawk at the bodies of two Arabs who lay near the U.N. guest house, which was abandoned by U.N. workers in September. Bundles of burned clothes and blankets were piled on top of the corpses, and a charred rocket launcher lay beside one of them.

Another crowd craned for a glimpse of five Pakistanis killed outside a small police station.

Sporadic gunfire pierced the crisp morning air as Northern Alliance soldiers celebrated their victory. U.S. bombing has cleared the way for rapid opposition advances, beginning with the fall of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday.

Opposition fighters moved quickly through Kabul neighborhoods, conducting house-to-house searches and seizing abandoned bases. Rifle fire was heard at some outposts on the edges of the city.

"I think there were some Taliban who were asleep when everyone else left," said a smiling resident, Abdul Jan. "They have woken up and they are thinking 'Oh my God, what can I do?'"

Fearing retaliation, a frightened employee of the Taliban's official Bakhtar News Agency hid his turban beneath the seat of his car. The Taliban required all men to wear turbans.

"Do you think they will hurt me?" the employee, Abdul Rehman, asked a reporter.

In some areas of Kabul, residents gathered on street corners to talk about what they had seen and point out houses of former Taliban commanders.

Opposition soldiers said they were collecting arms as they moved door-to-door. Others sped through the streets in vehicles camouflaged with mud that the Taliban had left behind.

In the northern district of Khair Khana, inhabited largely by ethnic Tajiks who fled the earlier fighting north of the city, some people shouted: "Congratulations! Oh my God, they are here!" Some men hugged each other.

"Now I have to go to the barber to shave my beard," said Zabiullah, an ethnic Tajik. "Today is a happy day."

Houses used by Taliban leaders in the once posh neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan were abandoned. The large steel doors of the home of former Health Minister Mullah Abbas Akhund were wide open.

Homes were also abandoned on Street 15 of Wazir Akbar Khan, famous in this area as "the street of guests" — a reference to the Arab, Chechen and Uzbek volunteers who were allied with the Taliban.

Many were affiliated with Usama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the terrorist attacks in the United States that killed about 4,500 people. The United States launched the bombing campaign against the Taliban after they refused to hand over bin Laden.

In Kabul's old city, businessmen said departing Taliban soldiers emptied the stores of goods and money. One money changer, who gave his name as Dr. Wali, said Taliban soldiers riding tanks stopped in front of the shops, demanded money and then rumbled out of the city.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.