Afghan opposition claims advances, says 70 Taliban killed

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Afghan opposition fighters claimed Saturday to have seized territory from forces of the ruling Taliban in clashes that killed 70 Taliban soldiers.

Opposition soldiers broke through Taliban defense lines and advanced toward the strategic Salang Pass, 60 miles north of the capital, Kabul, Mohammed Abil, an opposition spokesman, told The Associated Press by telephone from northern Takhar province.

He said at least 30 Taliban soldiers were also taken prisoner, but he gave no details of the opposition losses. ''Intense fighting is still raging in the area,'' he said.

The Taliban denied suffering heavy casualties, saying that they repulsed the opposition attack and the front line remained unchanged.

The opposition, comprising ethnic and religious minorities, controls barely 10 percent of Afghanistan and is battling the ruling Taliban militia on several fronts in an attempt to stop them from capturing the entire country.

The Taliban, which espouse a strongly conservative version of Sunni Islam and captured the Salang Pass two months ago, have held their positions on mountain heights, a Taliban official in Kabul said on the condition of anonymity. The pass is one of the main routes connecting the capital to the country's north.

No independent confirmation of the casualties was possible because of the remoteness of the area.

Fierce fighting also broke out overnight in Takhar province, 120 miles north of Kabul, where the Taliban are trying to overrun opposition positions, Abil said.

At least seven Taliban soldiers were killed in that fighting, Abil said, adding that there were no casualties in the opposition ranks.


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