- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan A militant Pakistani group said yesterday that the Taliban regime had accepted the militia's offer to go to Afghanistan and repel the United States but only those fighters who can fire heavy weapons such as rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns.

The militia has massed nearly 10,000 fighters, many armed with weapons used to fight the Soviets during the 1980s, at a remote border crossing north of Peshawar.

"The Taliban accepted our offer but said, 'we don't need that many people,' so just send those fighters with experience shooting heavy weapons such as rocket launchers, missiles and anti-aircraft guns," said Gul Dad Khan, a leader of the group that is known by its Urdu-language acronym, TNSM.

Though Pakistani troops have blocked the border crossing, there is little they can do to prevent the fighters from breaking into small groups and hiking in through the mountains. But until yesterday, the big glitch had come from the Taliban side, which is reluctant to take in untrained fighters, which it would have to feed and supply.

Mr. Khan said he expected fighters to begin entering Afghanistan today, with about two-thirds of those assembled having experience with heavy weapons. Some even brought their own anti-aircraft guns in pickup trucks.

Should the militiamen enter Afghanistan, it would mark a major escalation in Afghanistan's military standoff with the United States.

In some of the heaviest bombing of the front lines yet, U.S. jets pounded Taliban positions north of Kabul. Children and adults gaped at the skies, where U.S. planes including B-52 bombers roared throughout the day and into the night.

Both U.S. and alliance officials say they are stepping up their coordination in the fight against the Taliban, which is under U.S. attack for harboring Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terror network, accused of carrying out the September 11 attacks in the United States that killed more than 5,000 civilians.

The Northern Alliance's deputy brigade commander in the Bagram district, Mir Rahman, said some U.S. planes were circling over the plain as many as four times before dropping their bombs.

Four bombs landed on Estarghich, sending a large cloud of dust over the Taliban-held village on the southwest side of the Shomali Plain. The two other bombs landed deeper inside Taliban territory. Opposition fighters said it appeared that Taliban field headquarters as well as other targets were being hit.

In the southern city of Kandahar, bombs began falling before dawn yesterday. Foreign journalists brought to this Taliban stronghold on a media tour watched from a rooftop as detonations lit up the sky.

Later, the 29 journalists including two from Associated Press Television News were taken by the Taliban to the bomb-shattered ruins of a hospital operated by the Afghan Red Crescent, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.

With heavily armed Taliban fighters looking on, Dr. Obeidallah Hadid said 15 persons were killed and 25 severely injured. Reporters were shown no bodies but a few of the injured, and the numbers could not be confirmed.

The Taliban ambassador in Pakistan said yesterday that between 1,500 and 1,600 civilians had been killed by the bombing since the start. There has been some speculation that the attacks would subside during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts in mid-November. But a fighter with the Northern Alliance's Zarbati commando units, Ghulam Rabbani, said Ramadan should not be an obstacle, saying even the Taliban have not honored it in past fighting with the alliance.

"Ramadan should not have any relation to the American attacks," he said. "If America stops bombing during Ramadan, the Taliban will take the opportunity to remobilize and resupply themselves."

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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