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U.S. pilots in 'cleanup mode'

Monday, October 15, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. jets pounded targets in Kabul and other cities Sunday as the U.S. air campaign to force the handover of Osama bin Laden entered a second week. The White House rebuffed yet another offer by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to negotiate on the terror suspect's fate.

In neighboring Pakistan, Islamic militants opposed to the bombardment clashed with police while trying to storm an air base reportedly used by the Americans to support the air campaign. One person was killed and about 24 injured, police said.

Aboard the USS Enterprise, the launching pad for raids on Afghanistan, U.S. officers described Sunday's attacks as "cleanup" missions to hit targets pilots had missed in earlier raids.

"We're sort of in a cleanup mode right now," the carrier commander told reporters without allowing his name to be published as part of military rules.

In the latest raids, U.S. jets destroyed Kabul's Chinese-built international telephone exchange, severing one of the last means of communication with the outside world. Residents also said the capital's historic Mogul-style Balahisar Fort, built in the early 20th century, was in ruins. The report could not be confirmed because security kept outsiders from the area.

Other targets included the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Herat, according to the Taliban Information Ministry. Explosions were heard late Sunday well north of Kabul in the direction of the front lines between opposition and Taliban fighters.

One strong detonation about midnight triggered what appeared to be a series of secondary explosions.

A nighttime attack on the Taliban headquarters in Kandahar plunged the city into darkness and enveloped it in dust Sunday, the private Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said. The main target appeared to be military headquarters, it said.

'Why do they attack us?'

The U.S.-led barrage has left Afghan civilians with frayed nerves, since some of the targets are close to populated areas and at least in one case homes have been struck by accident.

"There is no Osama in Kabul," bank worker Mohammed Arif said. "Osama and his people are not living in small mud houses. Why do they attack us? We are not his supporters. We have never seen his face."

Washington says the raids do not target civilians, but the Pentagon has acknowledged that one bomb went astray and hit a residential neighborhood near Kabul.

The third most powerful figure in the Taliban, Deputy Prime Minister Haji Abdul Kabir, said Sunday that the militia was willing to hand bin Laden over to a third nation if the United States offers evidence against him and halts the bombing. President Bush quickly rejected the offer.

"There is nothing to negotiate about. They are harboring a terrorist," Bush told reporters.

The Bush administration has repeatedly refused any conditions on its demands that the Taliban surrender bin Laden and his al-Qaida terror movement -- suspected in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. The United States launched the bombardment of Afghanistan on Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused for weeks to comply.

Al-Qaida has released three videotaped statements since the start of the air campaign, the latest on Saturday, warning of new terror attacks against the United States.

Kuwait decided Sunday to strip the citizenship of the spokesman who appeared in the tapes, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a former Kuwaiti teacher. Once Kuwait's emir approves the government decision, Abu Ghaith will share the same stateless status as bin Laden, who was stripped of his Saudi citizenship.

Security force in Kabul

Meanwhile, a commander in the coalition battling the Taliban said opposition leaders have organized a 2,000-strong security force to maintain law and order in Kabul if they capture the city.

The lightly armed force would secure the city until a new government can be established, Gen. Haji Almaz Khan said in Charikar, an alliance stronghold 25 miles north of Kabul.

The United States and its partners have been urging the opposition to avoid launching an all-out attack on Kabul until a broad-based government can be formed to replace the Taliban. Most of the Taliban are ethnic Pashtun; the alliance is dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Taliban intelligence chief Qari Ahmedullah appealed to opposition fighters Sunday to join in the battle against America for "our religion and country."

"We will forget our past differences with those who join us now," he said in a statement distributed by the Afghan Islamic Press.

Since last month, the Taliban have banned most foreign journalists from entering the roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan under the religious militia's control. This weekend, however, they allowed a group of international journalists to visit Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. jets allegedly destroyed a village last week.

When the journalists arrived under Taliban escort at the village, Karam, angry residents pointed to ruined mud and stone homes and freshly dug graves as evidence of the purported American attack.

"What do I have left? Nothing," said one villager, Toray, in the roofless hut where he said his wife and five children died. He waved a shard of jagged metal, which had the words "fin-guided missile" printed in English on its side.

Taliban officials insisted there were no military targets in the area. However, bin Laden was believed to operate terrorist training camps in the province.

Unease in Pakistan

Reports of civilian deaths have caused unease in Pakistan, where small but vocal Islamic political parties that admire the Taliban are already enraged by government support for campaign on Afghanistan.

On Sunday, thousands of Muslim extremists converged on the city of Jacobabad, site of one of two airfields that Pakistani officials privately say the Americans have been allowed to use to support the campaign, though not to launch attacks on Afghan-istan.

The protesters tried to storm the base. Police and paramilitary forces sealed off Jacobabad to outsiders and used tear gas to disperse rioters in a series of running battles around the city.

The riot occurred one day before Secretary of State Colin Powell is to arrive in Pakistan for a visit aimed at reducing tensions between the South Asian country and rival India.


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