Civilian casualties filled hospitals in the capital following heavy fighting Saturday between Taliban rebels and soldiers loyal to the deposed government.
In one hospital, a 10-month-old baby screamed, his right leg amputated by a shell. An 11-year-old boy, one arm missing, lay stunned under heavy sedation. The wounded arrived in waves of up to 30, many of them civilians.
Troops loyal to the former government’s military chief, Ahmed Shah Massood, have staged several successful raids on Taliban positions on the only road leading north out of Kabul, the capital. The Taliban, an army of former Islamic studentsturned-fighters, captured Kabul on Sept. 28.
The Taliban, which has seized two-thirds of Afghanistan and imposes its strict interpretation of Islamic law, claimed to have fended off the latest attack.
Taliban soldiers blocked traffic heading north, but witnesses reported hearing heavy machine gun fire and sporadic tank fire.
Dozens of Taliban fighters were injured in battles 10 miles north of the capital. Exact numbers of casualties could not be determined because many people bury their dead immediately in accordance with Islamic tradition.
When Massood fled the capital last month, he took his loyal troops and a large amount of arms and ammunition about 90 miles north to the Panjshir Valley.
Under the cover of darkness, the ex-government troops, armed with rifles, machine guns and small arms, have slipped out of their mountain hideouts to attack Taliban positions.
The Taliban have dug in at the mouth of the Panjshir, but attempts to push Massood’s forces out of the valley - and eventually out of the country - have failed. They have made little headway in recent days, diverted by hit-and-run attacks mostly behind their defense lines.
Meanwhile, further north, the Taliban’s opponents were hammering out details of a military alliance. Deposed Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and leaders of other groups have assembled in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The Taliban say they are not worried.
“We don’t know whether or not an alliance has been forged and in any case, we don’t care very much because we have God on our side,” Taliban Information Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said.
The apparent head of the new alliance is Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek and the commander of the only fighting force besides the ex-government’s troops that is strong enough to challenge the Taliban.
Dostum controls seven provinces and commands a well-disciplined and well-armed force. His troops are dug in along the Salang Highway, the only road link connecting Kabul to northern Afghanistan and Central Asia.