KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban defenders of Kunduz, the militia's last bastion in the north, had one day left to reach a deal for the city's surrender Thursday or face a bloody raid from the opposition Northern Alliance.
Northern Alliance spokesmen said Thursday that no agreement had been reached through negotiations so far, and threatened — as they have before — to launch an all-out attack on Kunduz on Friday.
"Tomorrow we will launch an attack from four sides if they do not surrender," senior commander Daoud Khan, just east of Kunduz, said by satellite telephone.
Zabair, the alliance's foreign ministry spokesman who uses only one name, added: "Today is the last day of discussion, and after that we start to attack."
Haron Amin, a Northern Alliance spokesman in Washington, told The Associated Press that the main obstacle to reaching an agreement was the presence of foreign fighters in Kunduz, all of them suspected members of Al Qaeda.
The alliance's main commander in the north, Atta Mohammed, said terms of any surrender deal with Afghan Taliban fighters in Kunduz would not necessarily apply to the several thousand Arab, Pakistani and Chechen fighters loyal to Usama bin Laden holed up with the Taliban.
According to Northern Alliance commanders, the estimated 3,000 foreigners have vowed to fight to the end because of fears that a surrender would mean their certain death.
Amin said negotiators have discussed giving the foriegners amnesty and allowing them free passage to leave Kunduz, but the foreigners seem to "want to fight to the end unless the Taliban can convince them not to."
But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said U.S. officials don't want the foreign fighters to escape. "It would be most unfortunate if the foreigners in Afghanistan — the Al Qaeda and the Chechens and others who have been there working with the Taliban — if those folks were set free and in any way allowed to go to another country and cause the same kind of terrorist acts," he said on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Northern Alliance fighters ventured into no man's land just east of the besieged city to retrieve the bodies of nine fighters killed in a battle last week. A sniper opened fire when the troops returned for more bodies, but aside from that burst, the Taliban side was eerily silent.
The skies over Kunduz were clear, but the U.S. bombing of Taliban positions outside the city was also light. Only a few bombs were dropped by heavy planes and smaller attack aircraft.
The Northern Alliance swept across most of northern Afghanistan and entered the capital, Kabul, last week in an offensive that left the Taliban in control of only two major cities — Kandahar, in the south, and Kunduz, where a standoff has dragged on amid surrender talks.
The standoff continued Wednesday, with Northern Alliance forces holding artillery and tank positions atop high dirt ridges leading to the front line separating the two sides. When they fired on Taliban-held ridges ahead of them, there was no response.
And when a band of Northern Alliance fighters went down the road within range of the city, chanting "Kunduz, Kunduz," nothing happened.
The alliance's Gen. Mohammed Daoud has been negotiating with the Taliban commander of Kunduz, Dadullah, and former Taliban deputy defense minister Mullah Fazil Muslimyar.
Daoud said the talks are being carried out independently of the foreign fighters in Kunduz and that there have been no negotiations with them.
Refugees and defectors have said the foreign fighters have been preventing the Afghan Taliban from surrendering Kunduz.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.