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Ousting Taliban from Herat relatively easy
Residents of this northwestern city, still celebrating with gunfire, flares and tracer bullets, said Wednesday that they had driven the Taliban out 48 hours earlier with little more than sticks, knives and guns they had hidden for years.
The Taliban, disorganized and disheartened after a month of bombing, did not put up much of a fight, residents said. Citizens such as Gholam Habib Kousri said they joined forces with the Northern Alliance to drive out the Taliban, whose fighters fled into the nearby mountains. Many of them are thought to still be there, rendering the 100-mile stretch of road between the Iranian border and Herat unsafe at night.
Other Taliban fighters, including Chechens and Arabs who came to defend the radical Islamic regime, are said to be held prisoner out of sight. Otherwise, abandoned tanks along the roadside are the last physical sign that the Taliban once was here.
Charismatic warlord Ismail Khan, once the governor of this region, sent out a call for the popular uprising that toppled the Taliban.
"Ismail Khan's voice called for the people to take over," said Yekeh Khan Tourie, military commander of the town of Ghurian, halfway between Herat and the Iranian border.
Tourie said Khan is now consolidating his power. "We want to create an Islamic government from border to border," Tourie said.
Khan also ordered an amnesty for Taliban soldiers that he and other fighters are heeding, Tourie said. The amnesty has limits however. Tourie said Taliban who lash out from their mountain hiding places will be hunted down.
Rebuilding the infrastructure, battered by war and neglected by the Taliban, may prove more difficult than political unification, Tourie said. Cars and buses travel over pitted dirt roads that haven't been repaired for years. Generators provide electricity in Herat only 4 1/2 hours a day.
"Please deliver our message to [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan and the international community," Tourie said. "We need their help."
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune newspaper.