The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 23, 2001
Taliban hit in limited
U.S. front-line attacks
Northern Alliance commander was pleased with the apparent shift in focus
but said that more would be needed.
War With Terror
Afghanistan - American bombers yesterday struck positions along a front 25
miles north of Kabul, but the limited attacks did not appear to embolden
rebel forces to begin a long-expected assault on the Afghan capital.
warplanes dropped six bombs on positions held by the Taliban, the
hard-line Islamic movement that controls most of Afghanistan and that has
become the target of U.S. military actions since Oct. 7 for hosting
accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. No damage assessments were available.
Baba Jan, the commander of Northern Alliance opposition forces at an
abandoned military airport here, said he was encouraged that the air
strikes represented a shift of U.S. strategy to hit the heavily fortified
Taliban positions protecting the capital. But he said more would be needed
to weaken the Taliban front line.
would have to be several attacks," he told reporters at the airport.
"A single raid is not going to have much impact."
afternoon's attacks came a day after high-flying jets dropped five bombs
on a village that Baba Jan said was occupied by reserve Arab forces loyal
to bin Laden. The village, Yuzbashi, is about three miles southeast of the
front line, which runs through the air base built during the Soviet
occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He said rebels were awaiting
intelligence reports to make a damage assessment.
a low-flying U.S. jet was seen Wednesday dropping two bombs on a suspected
Taliban position about four miles south of the front line, the strikes
over the last two days appeared to signify a growing American willingness
to hit the Taliban front line north of Kabul. The attacks coincided with
predictions from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that the opposition
Northern Alliance forces would "start moving on Kabul more
alliance soldiers around the airport yesterday fired sporadic artillery
and rocket rounds into Taliban positions, sending up clouds of smoke and
dust, there was no evidence of the sort of troop movements associated with
a major offensive. Baba Jan said the Northern Alliance, or United Front,
troops had held their position for six years and would act on their own
schedule, not one hastily imposed by the United States.
the U.S. and allied forces attack, that's their decision," said the
general, who said he had received no advanced warning about the air
the bombs fell, the front line was considered so safe from attack that the
Taliban was sending its Kabul troops at night to positions near the
trenches apparently because it was safer than the capital.
Jan has expressed disappointment that the United States apparently heeded
calls from its ally Pakistan that it avoid hitting the Kabul front line -
and thus forestall any attempt by anti-Pakistani ethnic minorities to take
over the capital. The Tajik and Uzbek minorities who make up the bulk of
the Northern Alliance forces blame Pakistan for sponsoring the Pashtun-dominated
Jan said yesterday that the rebel forces would hit Kabul when they were
ready, and dismissed assertions that the capital would have to fall before
the onset of winter and the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which begins
not going to make any difference if the attacks are scheduled before,
during or after Ramadan," Baba Jan said.
said no new forces had been called up to help the outnumbered alliance
troops launch an attack across the Shamali Plain, a broad expanse of
fertile farmland that is bisected by the front line. The Taliban fighters
have been unable to dislodge the alliance forces from the Panjshir Valley
stronghold since the religious fundamentalists marched into Kabul in 1996
and imposed their rigid form of Islam on the capital.
Airport is considered a key prize of the campaign to control the Shamali
Plain because it would allow whoever controlled it to fly in large cargo
planes required to resupply this isolated valley. But the Shamali Plain is
surrounded by a ring of high, jagged granite mountains and any occupation
force also would have to control the highlands in order to allow secure
landings and takeoffs from the plains below.
air strikes Sunday afternoon represented the first time that jets screamed
in from the north of Kabul over alliance-held territory, stopping people
dead in their tracks in the bazaar of Jabal Saraj as they craned their
necks to spot a few planes streaking through the clouds across the sky.
night, a succession of jets again flew over the front lines from the
north, but the aircraft appeared to circle at a high altitude and then
return north without dropping any bombs, Baba Jan said.
yesterday afternoon, witnesses at Bagram Airport said, two U.S. jets
dropped six bombs, sending up towers of black smoke. Five fell on Taliban
front-line positions north of Kabul, while another fell on the Northern
Alliance side. There was no word on casualties.
soldiers, who complain their struggle has been ignored for years until the
United States suffered the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said they were
unimpressed with the air assaults.
will take more than five bombs to get the Taliban out of here," said
Mashuq, a soldier who stood in the airport's control tower, where he
walked around in full view of the Taliban, fortified by faith that God
would protect him. "This is one of the most well-fortified Taliban
front lines in Afghanistan, and it won't fall easily."
said the U.S. bombing raids did improve the spirits of the soldiers.
"It makes us feel better," he said. "But we'd feel better
still if they bombed more and more."