KUNDUZ, Afghanistan – Anti-Taliban forces lay savage claim to the captured city of Kunduz on Monday after a two-week siege, beating captured Taliban in the streets and shooting wounded prisoners in the grimy town's marketplace. The Northern Alliance reported scores of Taliban dead.
Frightened members of the city's Tajik minority began venturing back out onto city streets, liberated from what they saw as five years of oppressive Taliban rule.
"We are free," said Taj Mohammed, a gray-bearded old man in the flowing green robes of ethnic Tajik men, pressing his hands to his heart.
Despite an alliance claim late Sunday to have captured the city — the last northern stronghold of the Taliban — fierce firefights broke out when the main contingent of opposition forces pushed into Kunduz at daybreak Monday.
Taliban forces were waiting, ambushing the arriving soldiers with rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades. But Taliban came out the worst in the exchange.
Gut-shot Taliban lay dying on the streets, ringed by staring crowds. Alliance security official Rahman Ali estimated 100 Taliban dead in the street fighting early Monday, with perhaps 10 dead on the northern alliance side.
Afghan Taliban and a hard core of allied foreign Islamic militia had held off northern-based opposition alliance forces at Kunduz for two weeks. An estimated 3,000 Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens and other foreigners resisted surrender of the city, fearing the Northern Alliance would single them out for killing.
Alim Razim, an adviser to alliance commander Rashid Dostum, said 5,000 Taliban surrendered as alliance forces moved into the city. Most were locals and were released, but the alliance imprisoned 750 men they suspected of being foreigners, he said in Mazar-e-Sharif, Dostum's base to the west of Kunduz.
Ali and alliance Gen. Daoud Khan both said a group of Arab fighters loyal to Usama bin Laden broke out and fled to nearby Chardara, just west of Kunduz. Ali said the fighters were pinned down by Monday afternoon with nowhere to run.
Under the surrender agreement worked out during the siege, Afghan Taliban fighters are to receive amnesty while foreigners, mostly Chechens, Arabs and Pakistanis loyal to bin Laden, are to be imprisoned and tried.
But treatment meted out even to captured Afghan Taliban — who can expect gentler treatment than the foreign Taliban can — appeared far harsher Monday than the deal provided for.
Soldiers went house-to-house looking for hiding Taliban, hauling some away unharmed in trucks, their arms tied behind their backs with dirty scraps of cloth. One burly Afghan Taliban man, who protested quietly as he was brought to a truck, was smashed to the ground by Northern Alliance rifle butts.
Northern Alliance fighters stomped on the man's head as he lay writhing, at one point firing a shot in the air to drive back onlookers who crowded too close to watch. They finally threw his unmoving form into a truck and drove off.
The fly-covered bodies of three other Afghan Taliban fighters still lay in empty stalls in the city's market at late day. Residents said the men had been wounded and captured in fighting Sunday, then executed Monday. Each man's big toes had been tied together to keep him from running before he was shot.
Alliance soldiers also made off with loot, especially cars they said belonged to Taliban fighters. Many, not content with one car, used ropes to attach another behind — one man even strung together four — and drove off toward their base in nearby Taloqan.
Many of the Pashtun majority in the city of 100,000 appeared to stay indoors as Northern Alliance trucks poured into the city. The trucks rushed down dusty streets and disgorged thousands of northern alliance fighters armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Alliance forces are mainly ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, minorities in Afghanistan.
Men among the city's ethnic Tajiks ventured out to watch the chaotic deployment of troops.
They spoke of five years of mistreatment under the mainly Pashtun Taliban, and of the frightening final days of the Taliban's standoff here.
Most said they hid indoors in recent days, afraid both of U.S. bombs and wrathful foreign fighters. Most shops still were shuttered late Monday, and women and children were nowhere in sight. Normalcy was clearly days away — but coming.
"The Taliban are gone and the people are saved," said Sayeed Rachman, an old man with a gray beard. "Now we have safety."