Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Afghan opposition forces said yesterday they made key gains by capturing northern towns as the Pentagon said it is providing arms to opposition groups.
Northern Alliance forces advanced on several villages near the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif following extensive aerial bombing nearby by U.S. forces, Associated Press reported from Bagram in central Afghanistan.
The claims by the opposition could not be confirmed independently.
Asked at the Pentagon about the opposition gains, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he would wait for more reports about the effort. “There are so many reports about this village or that village. I like to let the dust settle” to see the final result, he said.
Opposition spokesman Ashraf Nadeem said the forces seized the town of Ogopruk and two other nearby villages yesterday.
U.S. supplies being sent to opposition forces include “ammunition, food, water, blankets, weapons, food for their horses, the things that they need to sustain themselves in power,” Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing with Gen. Pace, also said the communications links among various opposition tribes in Afghanistan are improving as the number of U.S. forces on the ground increases.
A U.S. government official, meanwhile, said U.S. military forces conducted the first bombing raid in days in support of the northwestern opposition forces headed by Ismail Khan.
Mr. Khan, an ethnic Tajik and former governor of Herat province, has about 5,000 fighters based north of the western town of Herat and is awaiting U.S. military supplies and weapons, the official said, citing “Pentagon bureaucracy” for delays in sending the arms.
Mr. Khan is part of the Northern Alliance and has several thousand fighters currently training with wooden sticks, as they await U.S. arms deliveries.
U.S. forces also bombed a caravan of foreign fighters that had crossed into Afghanistan recently from Pakistan to help the Taliban militia in an area near Mazar-e-Sharif, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The foreign reinforcements were heading to areas where some of the heaviest fighting is under way between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces.
The Pentagon is gradually expanding its support for opposition forces which are currently focused on helping Northern Alliance fighters in areas north of Kabul and near Mazar-e-Sharif.
Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S. ground troops working with various Northern Alliance forces are helping the groups to communicate better.
“There is no question but that there are continuous communications among the various U.S. forces on the ground, both with the various factions that they are located with, but also with a central figure that is in communications” with U.S. headquarters,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld spoke to reporters after returning from a five-nation trip that included stops in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and India.
Gen. Pace said the U.S. AC-130 gunship attack on a Taliban facility Oct. 22 was a legitimate military target, contrary to Taliban claims.
The facility was later studied by U.S. intelligence and confirmed that it included buildings and underground military facilities protected by Taliban troops.
“This was a validated military target, and it was struck as such on the 22nd,” Gen. Pace said, countering Taliban claims that the target was a civilian facility.
Gen. Pace also said the Pentagon is using large conventional explosives known as “daisy cutters” in the attacks on Afghanistan.
“There were two of these weapons used within the last week,” Gen. Pace said.
The 15,000-pound bombs, among the largest conventional bombs in the world, are dropped by parachute from transport aircraft.
“They explode about three feet above the ground, and as you would expect, they make a heck of a bang when they go off, and the intent is to kill people,” Gen. Pace said.

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