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Victory in hand, alliance exacts ugly revenge

Near an abandoned Taliban bunker Monday, Northern Alliance soldiers dragged a wounded Taliban soldier out of a ditch. As the terrified man begged for his life, the alliance soldiers pulled him to his feet.

They searched him and emptied his pockets. Then, one soldier fired two bursts from his rifle into the man's chest. A second soldier beat the lifeless body with his rifle butt. A third repeatedly smashed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher into the man's head.

The killing occurred minutes after Northern Alliance soldiers, advancing toward Kabul, surged deep into Taliban territory. They chose to celebrate with executions.

Ten yards away lay the body of a younger man who alliance soldiers said was a Pakistani. He was on his side with his arms extended. In the side of his head was a bullet hole.

Two hundred yards away, the soldiers who had minutes earlier shot the older man searched the possessions of a motionless Taliban soldier on the ground. After emptying his pockets, a soldier fired a burst from his rifle into the man. The soldiers moved on quickly, showing no emotion. A few minutes later, someone laid an unused mortar round across the man's throat.

A fourth body a mile away had a bullet wound in the side of the head. The Taliban soldier, flat on his back, had his hands up, as if he had been surprised or surrendering when shot.

Looting was widespread. Alliance soldiers, who have received extensive backing from the United States, plundered Taliban bodies and bunkers, stealing shoes, bags of sugar, flashlights and anything else that they could find. The events suggested that alliance soldiers might prove difficult to control as their victories build.

The looting and executions were an ugly ending to what began as a well-executed tank and infantry assault. Alliance forces broached Taliban lines near the Bagram air base and Khalazai on the western edge of the line.

Taliban lines broke after a two-hour bombardment and an hourlong tank and infantry attack. The alliance reported few casualties, with one soldier killed and eight wounded near Bagram.

Alliance soldiers reacted to the corpses in different ways. Nearly all stopped and gazed at the dead. Some searched for valuables. One, in a more dignified gesture, placed a cloth over a corpse.

Attitudes on looting varied. One soldier bragged about his take, showing off a bag of sugar and a pair of sneakers that he had found in a bunker. Another showed off the identification card of a Pakistani, Ahmad Bakhtiar, 22.

Some told other soldiers about their take, particularly when it involved weapons. Others were more discreet. At one point, an officer screamed at his soldiers to stop and rejoin the fight. "Let's go!" he shouted. "Let's go!" Carrying sacks of loot, the soldiers followed.

Taliban soldiers appeared to have left their posts quickly. In one compound, the freshly cooked head of a goat sat on a piece of wood waiting to be carved.