Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 3, 2001
U.S. pounds Taliban on holy day
As bombers struck the front line, Bush declared no pause for Ramadan. A U.S. crew was saved after its copter crashed. 

At War With Terror

RABAT, Afghanistan - U.S. heavy bombers and fighters pummeled Taliban positions on the front line north of Kabul yesterday, abandoning restraint on the Muslim holy day that had kept previous Fridays relatively free of air strikes.

President Bush said yesterday that the air war would not pause during Ramadan, the Muslim month of daytime fasting that begins Nov. 17. "The enemy won't rest during Ramadan and neither will we," he said at the White House.

Gigantic B-52s, disgorging bombs by the bellyful, and wasplike jet fighters began hitting targets before dawn yesterday, sending thunderous explosions across the Shamali Plain just as mullahs were calling Muslims to early morning prayers.

A U.S. helicopter crashed in bad weather yesterday afternoon in Afghanistan, injuring four crew members. A second helicopter was called in and evacuated the crew.

The injured crew members were receiving medical treatment for their wounds, which are not life-threatening, according to the Pentagon.

The helicopter was severely damaged and later destroyed by F-14 Tomcats from the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Earlier yesterday, Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing that freezing rain had hampered efforts to drop special forces into northern Afghanistan by helicopter. The forces are to work with groups opposed to the Taliban.

Throughout the day, planes continued striking sites a few miles south of the village of Rabat and the adjacent district of Bagram, where anti-Taliban guerrillas of the Northern Alliance, also known as the United Front, are squared off across an abandoned airport from deeply entrenched Taliban positions. The front line, 25 miles north of Kabul, has been stationary for more than two years.

Fighter aircraft, barely detectable with the sun overhead except for their roar, repeatedly hit targets such as Moshin Ab, a village on the main highway to Kabul where guerrillas said the Taliban had a headquarters.

As towering gray dust clouds dissipated from the first wave of bombs, a lone B-52, its route marked by a vapor trail, cut loose a load of smaller bombs that spread out over several hundred yards of Moshin Ab, setting off a series of blasts.

A senior defense official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that about 50 U.S. jet fighters and long-range bombers conducted air strikes in Afghanistan yesterday, mostly around Kabul. Poor weather north of the Hindu Kush mountains prevented raids there.

U.S. commanders want to supplement the small number of American commandos coordinating airdrops of ammunition to Northern Alliance guerrillas and guiding air strikes against the Taliban militia and forces loyal to Osama bin Laden.

Troops of the Northern Alliance, a loose and fragile coalition of ethnic and political groups opposed to the Taliban regime, appeared no closer to launching a ground assault on the front lines. The only mobilized troops were those who climbed to high positions to watch the daylong air assault.

"There is no coordination between us and the American air force," said Alokzay Ahmadi, a midlevel commander who stood on a rooftop and identified the targets on a well-thumbed topographical map. "The Americans bomb the places they want, so I can't tell you the results of their work."

The American bombing campaign against the Taliban began Oct. 7. For the last two weeks, the air strikes have focused on frontline Taliban positions around Kabul and other strongholds.

Unlike the first bombing runs over front lines nearly two weeks ago, in which some planes dived in so low that they had to evade heat-seeking missiles, the bombers in recent days have remained at high altitudes, well beyond the range of Taliban antiaircraft fire.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld departed yesterday for Moscow for talks on Afghanistan, arms control and other issues with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov. He is then to visit Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India for talks on shoring up those countries' support for the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign.

It will be his second visit to Uzbekistan, where there are about 2,000 U.S. troops, including soldiers of the Army's 10th Mountain Division.

In Pakistan, he is expected to meet with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the country's military ruler, who has cooperated with the U.S. antiterrorism war even though some Pakistanis sympathize with the Taliban.

In New Delhi, Rumsfeld is expected to work to complete a military cooperation agreement under which the Indian navy would support U.S. naval forces involved in the Afghanistan operation.

Pakistani officials in Islamabad said they had no information on reports that Taliban forces clashed with supporters of an influential Pashtun leader who had slipped back into Afghanistan to rally support for political alternatives to Taliban rule.

The Taliban claimed tribal leader Hamid Karzai had escaped but 25 of his supporters were captured and were facing execution. Karzai's family in Pakistan affirmed the clash occurred and said he was safe.

In Washington, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Karzai's group was attacked by Arab fighters loyal to bin Laden who form a sort of Praetorian guard for the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The Pentagon has kept tight control over information about the war. For example, the top Marine officer in the South Asia region said yesterday he could not disclose basic details of a recovery operation of an Army Ranger helicopter in Pakistan two weeks ago. Col. Tom Waldhauser, who commands the 15th Marine Expeditionary Force aboard amphibious assault ships in the north Arabian Sea, cited "sensitivities better left unspoken" when speaking to reporters aboard the USS Peleliu.

The helicopter crashed, killing two Americans, while on a mission in Pakistan supporting a raid by American special forces in Afghanistan. Marines who recovered the helicopter came under fire in Pakistan, abandoned the recovery, and then completed it on another attempt. Waldhauser said the Marines "performed with quiet confidence and professionalism and were able to react to a very dynamic situation almost in a routine manner." 

Knight-Ridder correspondent Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this story. home page   
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