- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Signs emerged yesterday that the U.S.-led air strikes over Afghanistan were successfully reaching Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network, with reports that a senior bin Laden lieutenant had been killed in an air assault earlier this week.
The London-based Islamic Observation Center reported that a U.S. strike near Jalalabad on Sunday killed an Egyptian veteran of al Qaeda, known as Abu Baseer al-Masri, and injured two of his colleagues.
Afghan sources in Islamabad, Pakistan, described al-Masri as a 10-year resident of Afghanistan who was close to bin Laden's al Qaeda deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.
But the Taliban ambassador to neighboring Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, insisted that both bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's religious leader, were alive and well. The ambassador said that he had met recently with bin Laden and found him in good health.
Rejecting reports of Taliban defections, Mr. Zaeef told journalists in the Pakistani border town of Chaman that Taliban morale was high. "As long as there is one Talib alive in Afghanistan, America cannot defeat us," he said. "Our morale is high and we will never bow to unjust demands of any power."
But as U.S. jets maneuvered freely over Afghanistan in their continuing air assault, Taliban officials admitted their soldiers were running low on anti-aircraft ammunition.
Taliban soldiers had been firing continuously at U.S. jets, Taliban figures claimed, but American pilots returning from bombing runs have said the level of anti-aircraft fire had diminished as gun sites were destroyed by precision weapons.
"Now we intend to change our strategy," said Mullah Ameer Khan, a leading Taliban spokesman who also serves as education minister. "We will decrease the rate of firing because we want to save our ammunition."
Mr. Khan's remarks came as American jets pounded Afghanistan on day 12 of a U.S.-led campaign to force it to hand over bin Laden, believed to have ordered the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
The air assault began before dawn with a massive attack on the capital, Kabul, where U.S. warplanes pounded areas around the presidential palace and the airport north of the city.
Taliban officials said the strikes were directed at the city's Shash Tarak district where the Taliban Defense Ministry, a military garrison and the long-abandoned U.S. Embassy are located. In that same district, two houses situated in a residential area near a Taliban tank unit were hit by a bomb.
Neighbors said four family members were killed when their house was destroyed. Rescuers were reportedly digging through the rubble looking for a fifth family member.
The Taliban regime has claimed that the death toll from the bombing now exceeds 400, though U.S. analysts suspect it is exaggerating the numbers. More than 5,000 U.S. civilians died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The United States has said it is only targeting Taliban and al Qaida installations and has expressed regret for any unintended casualties.
In Kandahar, the Taliban's headquarters in southern Afghanistan, U.S. jets struck military targets throughout the city and a village outpost where Mullah Omar is said to have recently preached. Residents in Kandahar have reported seeing Taliban fighters in the area handing out weapons to civilians.
New strikes were also reported in Jalalabad and were said to target the airport.
In Washington, defense sources said helicopter-borne U.S. special forces were ready to launch a land assault on Afghanistan from the USS Kitty Hawk in the Indian Ocean. In a clear signal that such an attack may be imminent, President Bush said American air strikes were "paving the way for friendly troops on the ground."
Taliban and Northern Alliance forces were locked in a fierce battle for the control of the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.


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