MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan – Northern Alliance fighters helped by U.S. special forces claimed Tuesday to have quashed an uprising by captured Taliban after a third day of fierce fighting around a fortress prison.
With the battle raging on during the day, there were gruesome scenes of dozens of bodies and body parts — of soldiers from both sides — scattered about. One television report showed some 60 bodies, believed to be Taliban, scattered across a courtyard in the sprawling, mud-walled Qalai Janghi fortress.
Trucks carrying 200 alliance fighters and an anti-aircraft gun arrived at the fortress in the morning. Desert camouflage-clad U.S. special forces and soldiers who appeared to be British moved in and out of the fort, some carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles, others toting guns fitted with laser scopes.
By the evening, the Northern Alliance said it had wiped out the Taliban resistance inside the fortress. "The situation is completely under control. All of them were killed," said Alim Razim, a political adviser to Gen. Rashid Dostum, the alliance commander responsible for the fort.
Razim said alliance forces seized the last mortar the prisoners had been using. As darkness descended and alliance forces turned back journalists trying to enter the fortress, it was impossible to independently confirm the claim that all of the captives had been completely defeated.
Alliance officers said about 40 of their troops had died in the uprising along with hundreds of resisters.
Footage shot by the private Turkish station NTV showed some 60 bodies of Taliban fighters littered throughout the courtyard of the fortress, and Northern Alliance soldiers walking past the corpses. Footage shot by Fox News Tuesday showed a Northern Alliance fighter shot next to a fortress wall; he then rolls down a hill where he was cared for by his colleagues
An Associated Press photographer saw the bodies of eight Northern Alliance soldiers and about six wounded alliance fighters outside the fort Tuesday. The bodies of three escaped Taliban prisoners, who appeared to be Pakistanis, lay in a ditch, and villagers said one of them had been strangled with a rope.
A villager, laughing, picked up the body by the robe and kicked it in the head. Another posed over the body, holding a knife.
Hundreds of Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and other non-Afghans fighting with the Taliban were brought to the fortress here as part of the weekend surrender of Kunduz, the Islamic militia's last stronghold in the north. Once inside the fortress Sunday, the prisoners stormed the armory and fought alliance forces.
Northern Alliance officials had said Sunday that the fortress was under control, only to see heavy fighting over the next two days.
U.S. special forces aided Northern Alliance fighters in the battle. U.S. airplanes circled above Tuesday as Taliban prisoners rained rocket-propelled grenades and mortars on alliance troops. Witnesses reported heavy airstrikes on the fortress overnight.
Five U.S. soldiers were seriously wounded Monday when a U.S. JDAM smart bomb called in by special forces went astray, exploding near the Americans. The five were evacuated to nearby Uzbekistan and were being taken to Landstuhl Medical Center in Ramstein, Germany, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington. Their identities were not released.
One CIA operative was unaccounted for in the uprising, according to a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Razim, the Northern Alliance official, declined to say how many Taliban captives were inside the fortress Tuesday, and said that about 450 in all had been involved in the uprising.
Prisoners fired mortars, and tank and machine-gun fire could be heard. Mortar shells exploded around the complex, sending up billowing clouds of dust and smoke, and an enormous blast shook windows in Mazar-e-Sharif, 10 miles away.
Some Taliban prisoners could be seen climbing trees, and Northern Alliance fighters entered the fortress in shifts, 10 at a time.