WASHINGTON – Afghanistan's capital should become neutral territory if the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance is able to oust the ruling militia from Kabul, Secretary of State Colin Powell said.
The Taliban's front line, north of Kabul, fell under attack Saturday from American B-52 bombers and other warplanes.
Also, the Pentagon said it had halted the search for Bryant L. Davis and declared the machinist's mate fireman apprentice dead. On Wednesday, Davis, 20, of Chicago, fell overboard from the USS Kitty Hawk, one of three aircraft carriers deployed in the Arabian Sea for the war.
It was not known how Davis went overboard.
The Taliban acknowledged Saturday that it lost the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Aided by U.S. bombing, opposition troops said they were pursuing Taliban fighters as they retreated.
Powell said Kabul residents fear and mistrust the northern alliance, one reason to make the capital neutral territory as was Berlin after World War II before the city was divided into U.S., Russian, British and French sectors.
"That is what we are thinking about," Powell said at the State Department. "It's happened many times in history."
When the forces that now comprise the U.S.-backed northern alliance ruled Kabul from 1992 to 1996, around 50,000 people were killed in fighting among rival warlords.
The need for a broad-based government in Afghanistan was highlighted in discussions Friday between President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
"We discussed a post-Taliban Afghanistan that enables the country to survive and move forward and one that represents all the interests of the people of Afghanistan," Bush said at a news conference with Vajpayee.
A spokesman for one of the Afghan opposition commanders, Gen. Rashid Dostum, claimed U.S. Green Berets participated in the battle. A senior defense official in Washington said he could not confirm that.
Philip Smith, Dostum's Washington representative, said the U.S. special forces along with CIA operatives and Turkish troops also were working with Dostum, an Uzbek commander who once controlled Mazar-e-Sharif.
Mazar-e-Sharif is a key target for the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance because it lies along a major road to Uzbekistan in the north. Controlling the city helps the rebels open supply lines to Uzbekistan, where U.S. forces are stationed at an air base.
The Defense Department also plans to expand humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which would be easier if rebel forces take and hold Mazar-e-Sharif.
Some Muslim countries, particularly Pakistan, have urged that the United States halt airstrikes against the Taliban and Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network during Ramadan, which starts in about a week. That will not happen, said Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.
"If we had a chance to capture bin Laden or some of his senior operatives, it wouldn't matter to me whether it was Christmas or Hanukkah or Ramadan. We have to do it," he said Friday in an interview with radio reporters.
Later Wolfowitz added, "I don't think stopping the war ... for an extra month is doing any favor to any Muslims anywhere," since it would mean extending the time the Taliban militia is in control of Afghanistan.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day and reflect on their faith. It starts when the first light of the new moon is visible, which is expected to be around Nov. 17.