Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 25, 2001
U.S. jets step up frontline attack
For an hour or so, bombs fell on Taliban posts. Alliance forces, unimpressed with the assault, kept up the ground battle. 

At War With Terror

RABAT, Afghanistan - American jets intensified their attacks on Taliban frontline positions north of Kabul yesterday, the fourth day that U.S. warplanes have targeted entrenched positions 25 miles north of the capital. At least four jets, circling at high altitudes, dropped bombs for about an hour on positions behind Taliban lines around a former military airport at Bagram.

Fighters for the opposition Northern Alliance stared skyward as the warplanes, glinting in the late-afternoon light, roared overhead. The planes dived to a lower altitude before dropping their bombs, out of the range of antiaircraft gun rounds that popped in the air with bright flashes. Climbing, they jettisoned flares to divert surface-to-air missiles.

At least 11 bombs struck Taliban positions near Bagram, sending up dark plumes of smoke and orange balls of flames. Some of the explosions continued as though the bombs had struck fuel or weapons depots. While the aerial assault continued, opposition ground forces and the Taliban traded mortar, rocket and small-arms fire across the front line that stretches across the Shamali Plain, a fertile region north of Kabul. The concussion of large guns filled the air.

Taliban and opposition commanders also traded insults by radio.

"You are the slave of the Americans and the dollar," a Taliban commander told his rival after having insulted most of the rival's female relatives.

"You are the slave of Pakistan and your life will soon come to an end," the Northern Alliance commander retorted. Pakistan is the chief sponsor of the Taliban movement, which swept into Kabul in 1996 and ousted the quarreling leaders of what has become the Northern Alliance.

Alliance commanders - who had been critical of the absence of U.S. air support here since President Bush launched the bombing campaign Oct. 7 - said the new attention being paid to the frontline positions was insufficient to weaken the Taliban.

They were especially unimpressed with the accuracy of U.S. bombs, two of which fell inside Northern Alliance lines Monday.

'No effect'

"The bombing is having no effect on the Taliban," said Gen. Hoji Almas, commander of the front line at Rabat, noting that he was sure of that because "one day they hit us and it had no effect on us."

Pointing to the young officers surrounding him, Almas said the limited American bombing would not frighten them - or their Taliban equivalents.

"You see this younger generation?" he said. "They grew up with fighting and war. One bomb has no effect on them."

Late yesterday, on the other front where anti-Taliban fighters are engaged, the Northern Alliance said 35 enemy soldiers had been killed in fierce fighting 50 miles south of the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

The alliance said it was moving forces toward the city in preparation for an assault that would wrest it from Taliban control. Mazar-e Sharif sits just 25 miles south of the Uzbek-Afghan border and is the most important city in the north of the country.

Uzbek border to reopen for aid

Meanwhile, the Uzbekistan government agreed to partially open its borders for the first time in five years to allow humanitarian aid to cross into northern Afghanistan, as U.N. officials predicted that as many as 100,000 Afghan children could die this winter. Aid shipments should start flowing "within the next week or two," one official said.

The Uzbeks have agreed to allow use of port facilities and large barges at the strategic border town of Termez to ferry aid across the Amu Darya River into Afghanistan. The border was shut in 1997 after the Taliban captured Mazar-e Sharif, 38 miles south of Termez.

In Washington, the Pentagon acknowledged for the first time yesterday that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia was proving to be a tenacious opponent and hunkering down for a long fight that could drag on for months through the harsh Afghan winter.

Briefing reporters at the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem noted that the Taliban had stopped advances by opposition forces on Kabul and an airfield near Mazar-e Sharif, and had begun dispersing its forces in ways that will be difficult to strike from the air alone.

"They are proven to be tough warriors," Stufflebeem said. "We're in an environment they obviously are experts in and it is extremely harsh."

Asked to assess the Taliban's strengths and vulnerabilities, Stufflebeem said he was "surprised at how doggedly they're hanging on to power - I think that's the way to put it."

Stufflebeem also said that the Taliban might be planning to poison food aid being distributed in Afghanistan and blame it on the United States. "We are going to make sure that that is as widely known as fast and as far as we can," he said.

The United States has dropped more than 700,000 packets of food meant for the hungry and displaced population since it launched its bombing campaign over Afghanistan. Other relief organizations also are distributing food in the country, and the Taliban militia that controls most of the country has confiscated some of those foodstuffs.

"If the food comes from America it will not be tainted," Stufflebeem said he wanted to tell people. "But if it comes from Taliban control, they must be careful."

He also said troops yesterday retrieved a Black Hawk helicopter that crashed Friday in Pakistan while supporting a covert raid into Afghanistan. A recovery crew had tried to retrieve it Saturday but aborted the mission when it came under small-arms fire.

Earlier yesterday, President Bush told employees of a Maryland business that the United States was winning the war on both fronts - in Afghanistan and in the efforts to protect America's shores.

"We're patient. We're firm. We have got a strategy that is going to work. And make no mistake about it, justice will be done," the President said.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that he hoped the antiterrorism war can be concluded quickly but that the administration was prepared to keep up the fight during the Muslim holy period of Ramadan that starts in mid-November.

"The important point to remember," he said at a State Department news conference, "is we have military objectives to accomplish, and I would like to see all of those objectives accomplished in the next few days as we approach this period of Ramadan and winter."

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is vowing to flush out any Afghan fighters who hide in residential areas to escape aerial attacks even as it acknowledges a few of its bombs accidentally struck civilian sites.

U.N. officials yesterday alleged that American warplanes dropped a cluster bomb on the hamlet if Shakar Qala in western Afghanistan, scattering nearly 200 pieces of unexploded ordnance the size of soda cans among bewildered residents. Officials said many villagers were trapped in their homes by the tiny, unstable "bomblets," which could explode if disturbed.

A Pakistani militant group confirmed yesterday that 22 of its fighters, including several senior commanders, were killed Tuesday in the bombing of a house in Kabul, the deadliest strike known so far against a group linked to Osama bin Laden.

In Peshawar, Pakistan, more than 1,000 Afghan tribesmen, royalists, and even a few Soviet-era guerrillas met to find a way to replace the Taliban government. home page   
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