Taliban Control Collapses after Fall of Kabul; AFGHANISTAN: Call for UN to Establish Presence
Byline: GAVIN CORDON
TALIBAN control of Afghanistan was collapsing last night as it began abandoning its spiritual stronghold of Kandahar following the fall of Kabul.
As the government's grip on power disintegrated in the face of the Northern Alliance offensive, residents in the city - birthplace of the movement and home of its leader Mullah Mohammed Omar - claimed senior figures in the regime had begun to flee.
Downing Street said that while it could not confirm reports from Kandahar, it was clear that Taliban forces were in retreat.
Meanwhile, the US-led coalition struggled to fill the "power vacuum" in Kabul after the Northern Alliance ignored its wishes and took control of the Afghan capital.
At the United Nations, the United States, Russia and six nations that border Afghanistan pledged "to establish a broad-based Afghan administration on an urgent basis."
The aim is to put together a transitional leadership that is broadly acceptable, possibly including Taliban defectors. However, alliance leaders have rejected bringing in former Taliban members. Holding the capital increases the alliance's claim on a dominant role in government.
Tony Blair called for the United Nations to establish a presence in the city "as soon as possible" as the speed of the collapse appeared to take the western allies by surprise.
The UN's special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the Security Council that UN political personnel would be sent to the country.
The Northern Alliance said the majority of its soldiers were being held outside the city, but 3,000 specially trained "security troops" were being rushed in to maintain order amid reports of widespread looting.
Britain and America fear a repeat of the bloodshed and destruction which followed the last time the Northern Alliance captured Kabul in 1992. Although anti-Taliban fighters appeared to be acting with restraint, reports were emerging of brutal reprisals. …