- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

U.S. bombers yesterday pounded Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan for the first time and hit targets around Kabul as the opposition Northern Alliance was poised to move south from positions 20 miles outside the Afghan capital.
In some of the heaviest bombing to date, warplanes fired bombs and missiles on Kabul and other "targets of opportunity" around the country during a fourth day of air raids.
A senior Pentagon official said yesterday's strikes indirectly helped the opposition forces. But the military aim is to "alter the military balance" against the ruling Taliban.
Frontline Taliban troops north of Kabul have not yet been hit, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. U.S. attacks yesterday were limited to aircraft strikes by U.S. Air Force and Navy jets. No cruise missiles were fired.
"We're going after emerging targets," the senior official said.
The stepped-up bombing near Kabul followed the military gaining unchallenged control of the skies for U.S. and allied warplanes, and trailed earlier attacks on air-defense sites and airfields. The raids were targeted at terrorist groups, their leaders, and their supporters in the ruling Taliban militia.
As the strikes continued, officials said the Pentagon is planning in a later phase of the conflict to use helicopter gunships inside Afghanistan as part of the operations. The helicopters would hunt down terrorists at remote locations, although officials said their use is not imminent.
A second Pentagon official said it would be "some time" before offensive ground operations would begin.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the war against terrorism may extend beyond Afghanistan to other nations.
"This is a campaign against al Qaeda and the al Qaeda network, which is located in many countries, and the head of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden," Mr. Powell said after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson. "But it is also a campaign against terrorism, wherever it may exist in the world."
The first phase is aimed at al Qaeda and what can be "flushed out" of the terrorist network through combined efforts. "And if we also succeed in wiping out the leadership, that would be fine as well," Mr. Powell said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
In a break with past practice, the Pentagon held no briefings yesterday for reporters to discuss the day's military operations. A Pentagon statement said attacks on Tuesday hit six military targets. The bombing was carried out by up to eight land-based bombers and up to 10 U.S. Navy warplanes.
"The broad category of targets struck included airfields, air defense sites and infrastructure of the al Qaeda terrorist organization," the statement said. "This included a re-strike on a garrison near Mazar-e-Sharif."
Defense officials also said U.S. bombers hit targets near the southern city of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold where the militia's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, lives.
A U.S. official said two of the mullah's relatives died in U.S. bombing raids Sunday. The official said both bin Laden and Mullah Omar are believed to be alive inside Afghanistan.
From Kandahar, Mullah Omar yesterday called on the world's Muslims to help Afghanistan resist the raids.
"Muslims should dissociate from it. Every Muslim, having a strong faith, should resolutely act against the egoistic power" of America, he told the BBC's Pashto-language service. "They should extend any help and support they can to" Afghanistan.
It was the first comment by the reclusive spiritual leader since the raids began Sunday night. The tape might have been made to show him still alive.
Most fellow Muslim states have reacted tepidly to the calls, with the Organization of the Islamic Conference issuing a communique yesterday that fell far short of what the Taliban might have hoped for.
The statement condemned the Sept. 11 suicide attacks on the United States as contrary to Islam and a blow to Arab causes. The organization, meeting in Qatar, "expressed its concern that confronting terrorism could lead to casualties among innocent civilians in Afghanistan" but did not explicitly condemn the U.S.-led bombings.
Reports from Afghanistan also said that loud explosions rocked areas near the Kabul airport north of the city as well as areas near the western sectors of Rishkore and Kargah. Afghan authorities swiftly cut electricity, plunging the city into darkness.
"We are just waiting, hearing the explosions here and there and hoping they do not come any closer," said one resident.
Following a second wave of attacks, huge blasts were heard near the airport, and also to the east and south. After a lull of around an hour, a third strike began. "This was much worse the worst yet," said one witness.
Those areas north and west of Kabul are known to have training camps for terrorists associated with bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization.
Defense officials said the Pentagon is preparing to use new precision-guided 5,000-pound bombs against underground facilities and caves believed to be used as redoubts by bin Laden. Plans also call for dropping cluster bombs that spread smaller bomblets against moving targets and concentrations of troops.
Daoud Mir, a spokesman for the armed Afghan opposition group known as the Northern Alliance, said the group's forces have been holding off its attacks while U.S. bombings are under way. But the group, located some 20 miles north of Kabul, is prepared to take the capital.
Some 1,800 Taliban fighters have deserted and joined the Northern Alliance "with weapons, ammunition, everything" in the past 24 hours, said Abed Nadjib, the alliance representative in Berlin.
In a helicopter assault, U.S. special-operations forces are expected to use UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in any operations against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, along with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, U.S. officials said.
The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk is en route to waters near Afghanistan; defense officials said it will be used as a floating base for special-operations forces.
Air drops of packaged meals also were carried out in an effort to aid starving Afghan refugees located in the southern part of the country. Meanwhile yesterday, the United Nations resumed food deliveries into Afghanistan with the dispatch of 40 trucks carrying 1,000 tons of wheat.
The trucks were expected to cross the border early today and head for Kabul, the Afghan capital, said Michael Huggins, World Food Program spokesman in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide