- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar urged his troops to fight to the death against U.S. forces yesterday as American jets targeted frontline Taliban positions north of Kabul for the first time.
Mullah Omar, in a speech to Taliban commanders by two-way radio, urged his troops to be prepared to die.
"The day for death is fixed, and we are not worried," the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news service quoted the bearded leader as saying.
The spiritual leader's message was directed at increasingly hard-pressed troops, who yesterday faced allied air strikes along their front lines against the opposition Northern Alliance.
Reports from within Afghanistan also said thick smoke hung over the cities of Kandahar and Kabul after the 11th day of the U.S. air campaign.
Western journalists with the alliance reported an increase in supply trucks moving northward from the capital, indicating the Taliban was reinforcing its positions outside Kabul.
However, the fire did not appear to be heavy enough to dislodge the Taliban troops and open the way for a direct assault on Kabul. Northern Alliance commanders have been growing frustrated with the failure of U.S. bombers to focus on the front line.
In his address to his backers, Mullah Omar told Taliban soldiers: "As Muslims, we believe in life after death, and all sacrifices should be for that ultimate life."
A belief that martyrs go to heaven helped motivate 19 Muslim fanatics to crash planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center on Sept. 11, killing more than 5,000 innocent civilians.
Mullah Omar has since protected the prime suspect in the attacks, Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, prompting the U.S. air strikes. The fatalistic tone in Mullah Omar's speech appeared to indicate the daily pounding has taken a heavy toll.
"I know people are in pain. But God has always put his beloved people to tests and we should pray to God to give us success," he said.
The speech, made by two-way radio presumably because Radio Shariat has been knocked out by the strikes, also served to show that Mullah Omar was still alive after repeated bombings of his compound in Kandahar. The reclusive Taliban leader has only rarely been photographed and few Westerners have ever met him.
The Taliban said more than a dozen people died in two separate strikes yesterday on Kandahar, one that hit two medical clinics, killing eight and injuring 26. The southern city, which serves as a stronghold for the Taliban, was reported to be deserted yesterday as thick smoke hung in the air.
In Kabul, jets hit oil depots at a Taliban military base, which burned out of control sending plumes of black smoke skyward. Taliban tanks raced out of the compound as firefighters struggled in vain to put out the flames, witnesses said.
In hospitals, a Reuters news agency reporter saw 10 wounded from the attacks. AIP reported that seven died in Kabul. Five wounded persons arrived at Hayatabad Hospital in Peshawar, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. They included a 5-year-old girl with broken bones and severe burns, who survived an attack that killed her parents and five brothers and sisters.
The Taliban claimed success on another battlefield, driving Northern Alliance forces away from the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
"The opposition ran away leaving 25 bodies and many injured," Taliban intelligence chief Qari Ahmad told AIP. A day earlier, alliance forces claimed to have moved within range of the city's downtown.
In Pakistan, which abandoned its longtime Taliban ally following the Sept. 11 strikes to join the U.S.-led anti-terror effort, speculation continued over a possible rift among Afghanistan's rulers.
Pakistan repeated its appeal, made a day earlier in a joint press conference with President Pervez Musharraf and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, for so-called centrist Taliban officials to help form a new Afghan government.
"We feel that most of [the Taliban] are not extremists and cannot be held responsible for the crisis," said Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Gen. Musharraf. "If they play some role to pull Afghanistan out of this crisis, we hope the Afghan people will be with them," he said.
A day earlier, Mr. Powell also said participation by some Taliban members in a new Afghan government would be acceptable to Washington.

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