Afghan guerrillas said yesterday they had taken control of the last two big cities outside Kabul, apparently after striking deals with government forces.
Mujahideen sources in Pakistan said Kandahar in the south and Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan fell to them after the defenders negotiated a peaceful takeover.
In Kandahar, mujahideen commanders formed a joint council with the Kabul-appointed governor, Sardar Akram Mohammadzai, to run the city, guerrilla sources across the Pakistan border in Quetta said.
One source said 18 of the 21 members of the council were appointed by the mujahideen, indicating the guerrillas held effective control. The mujahideen insisted they had also entered the strategic eastern city of Jalalabad and were negotiating with its government defenders despite Kabul denials.
"It is 100 percent confirmed that the central Army command in Jalalabad fell to the mujahideen last night," a mujahideen source said in the Pakistani town of Peshawar.
He said government units had been ordered to stay in positions for the time being to stop Afghan refugees pouring in from camps across the Pakistan border to loot the city.
"They decided to not allow anybody to come to Jalalabad because there could be a lot of looting," the source said, quoting radio reports from the city.
The Kabul government earlier denied reports that Jalalabad had been taken by the mujahideen. Mujahideen news agencies first reported on Sunday that Islamic rebels had entered the city, the strategic eastern gateway to Kabul that has defied previous offensives.
Mujahideen, mindful of previous victories which resulted in an orgy of revenge killings and looting, have gone to lengths in recent days to assure government forces and civilians they could believe guerrilla pledges of a general amnesty.
When the eastern garrison city of Khost fell a year ago, tribesmen descended on the town and stripped it bare. The Kabul government has reportedly now lost control of all major cities outside the capital.
Guerrilla sources in Peshawar also reported a string of smaller towns falling in the last 24 hours, most of them after their defenders reached an accommodation with the mujahideen.