Los Angeles Times

TALOQAN, Afghanistan In the besieged city of Kunduz, where thousands of desperate Taliban fighters have been holding out against U.S. bombing for more than a week, some are cutting off their long beards, abandoning their weapons and getting out of town.

Among the newly shaven are Qaraghafor and Mulloismatullo, Taliban fighters in their 20s, who headed west for their homes in Balkh province, according to a friend, Ghulum Nabi, 25.

Nabi, a shopkeeper, fled the northern Afghanistan city early Tuesday because of the U.S. bombing of Taliban positions.

“They were very anxious, afraid for their lives. They came to my shop and asked me to help them find a car,” Nabi said as he trudged east toward Taloqan in a thin rain.

With transport scarce, his friends were afraid to be seen in the streets of Kunduz, knowing that they would be killed as traitors if they were caught.

“I put them in a car and sent them home,” Nabi said. Six other fighters with them had also trimmed their beards and were on their way home.

A week ago, when the town of Taloqan, about 20 miles from Kunduz, fell to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, every barber”s shop in town was crammed with men trimming the long beards they were forced to wear under the rigid rules of the Taliban.

Now trimmed beards are a desirable disguise for some Taliban in Kunduz.

Adbul Qahir, 45, a trader who fled Kunduz yesterday, still wore a thick black beard with handsome curls. He said he was no Taliban sympathizer. He just hadn”t had a chance to trim his mane yet.

According to Qahir, many Afghan Taliban fighters were adopting the look of refugees.

“They”re all shaving their beards and cutting their hair. They”re changing their new clothes for old so that they look like refugees, and they”re leaving,” he said. “They”re passing themselves off as simple people. If they can find a car, they”re leaving the city.”

But the Arab and Pakistani mercenaries fighting on the Taliban side are trapped and desperate, with no way of melting into the tide of refugees.

In Kunduz, civilians terrified that a U.S. bomb will go astray are taking off, some carrying small cloth bundles but many empty-handed. Others are afraid they will be stopped and killed as traitors by the foreign Taliban fighters if they try to flee, said Sakijon, 50, who left Kunduz yesterday.

Taliban fighters were speeding about in pickup trucks, racing between the city and their battle positions.

“They”re very tough, very determined,” said Qahir, a Pashtun, the dominant ethnic group from which the Taliban has drawn much of its support.

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