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Afghanistan Militants Push Assault

Taliban fighters bombarded a northern valley with rockets Sunday in the second day of their assault on government soldiers, who had taken refuge there after being driven from the capital.

The Taliban militants were pouring more firepower into the area, and convoys of tanks, trucks and fighters were seen heading toward the Panjshir Valley, 90 miles north of Kabul.

The Taliban, a group of Islamic militants who have conquered most of the country, claimed Saturday to have captured three mountain peaks overlooking the valley but still were far from former government troops deeper inside the valley.

The former government military commander, Ahmed Shah Massood, reportedly took heavy artillery, tanks and rocket launchers when he fled Kabul last week. But it is not clear how many soldiers are fighting on his side.

Witnesses at the edge of the valley said they saw Taliban fighters preparing for battle, shaking their heads from side to side and grunting religious chants before setting off.

The Taliban, which has imposed its strict interpretation of Islamic law in areas it controls, ousted Massood and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani from Kabul on Sept. 27.

A Taliban defense ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity that fighting was concentrated at the mouth of the valley. The new Taliban rulers in Kabul have declared Massood a war criminal and have vowed to push his troops out of the valley.

As fighting raged north of Kabul, U.N. special envoy Norbert Holl held more talks with the Taliban rulers in the capital.

Holl refused to give details about his talks, but he had been expected to convey the United Nations’ dismay over the Taliban’s human rigths record.