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U.S. launches strongest daylight attacks yet against Kabul

Monday, October 15, 2001

and

AMIR SHAH

Associated Press Writers

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- In the biggest daylight raids so far, U.S. jets pounded targets around Kabul on Monday and attacked a military headquarters and suspected terrorist training camp near the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The stepped up attacks came one day after President Bush rebuffed the Taliban's latest offer to negotiate terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden's surrender.

In Pakistan, Muslim militants launched a nationwide strike to protest their government's support for the U.S.-led air campaign in Afghanistan. It was hard to gauge compliance across the vast country of 145 Muslim people. Many shops in militant strongholds were closed -- nearly every store in the border city of Quetta. But thousands of merchants remained open, including in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.

Secretary of State Colin Powell headed to the region to try to keep calm between Pakistan, a key ally in the campaign, and neighboring India -- heading off any surge in tensions that might complicate the U.S. military mission.

Daylight raids opened with jets streaking across the dawn sky over Kabul, striking in the area of the airport and a military base. Throughout the day, wave after wave of bombers, some too high to be heard in the streets below, pounded suspected military targets in the northwest of the capital.

In Afghanistan's east, a lone jet bombed the western outskirts as shoppers went about their errands at an open market in the city center.

Hours later, U.S. warplanes returned, striking a military headquarters near the Jalalabad airport, the bin Laden training camp at Tora-Bora and a third target near the village Karam, where the Taliban say up to 200 people were killed when U.S. jets devastated the hamlet last week.

Taliban soldiers patrolled Jalalabad with rocket launchers and assault rifles as the raids were underway.

"The Taliban just laugh at these bombs," said Mufti Yousuf, a Taliban envoy accompanying international journalists to Jalalabad. "It is nothing. It makes no difference."

Each raid drew anti-aircraft fire from Taliban forces. There was no immediate word of casualties in the two cities. Taliban Information Ministry officials in Kabul claimed 12 people died in a separate strike Monday in Badgus province in western Afghanistan. The claim could not be independently verified.

Kabul hospitals were without electricity overnight, since the Taliban switch off the power during raids. Doctors told The Associated Press that many families were taking their ill loved ones home, preferring to care for them there.

Doctors also said they were unable to care for premature babies because incubators require electricity.

"Please have mercy on us and don't kill us," pleaded Rahim Biba, mother of an infant born two months premature. "We are innocent. We are not followers of Osama and we are not members of his militant group. We are already in trouble. Don't add to our miseries."

The Pentagon said the U.S. Air Force was trying to gather more intelligence to check out a Taliban claim of large numbers of civilian casualties at Karam.

The Taliban escorted The Associated Press and journalists with several other international media organizations to Karam and Jalalabad over the weekend, for a first look inside Afghanistan since the U.S.-led strikes started.

Bush ordered the strikes Oct. 7 after Afghanistan's Islamic regime refused repeated demands to surrender bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 hijackings that killed an estimated 6,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field.

Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Haji Abdul Kabir offered Sunday to surrender bin Laden for trial in an unspecified third country if Washington stopped the bombing and provided the Taliban with evidence of the Saudi dissident's guilt. Bush said no.

"We know he's guilty. Turn him over," the president said in Washington.

Bush rejected a similar offer aired by a lower-ranking Taliban official before he began the military strikes, now in its ninth day.

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

On Sunday, 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 medieval era and reconstructed in the early 20th century, was flattened. The report could not be confirmed because security kept outsiders from the area.

In Pakistan, many businesses were closed in Taliban-sympathetic areas of Peshawar and Quetta as well as Lahore, a major eastern city. Many stores were also shut down in Jacobabad, home of Shahbaz Air Base which is used by the U.S. military to support the Afghan air campaign.

One person died and about 25 were injured Sunday in the Jacobabad area when Islamic militants tried to storm the base.

Secretary of State Powell, was due in the Pakistan capital of Islamabad late Monday to discuss the status of the air campaign, the future of a post-Taliban Afghanistan and relations between Pakistan and archrival India.

Pakistan has been supporting Islamic militants who seek an end to Indian rule in the predominantly Muslim region of Kashmir. A terrorist attack last week in the Indian sector of Kashmir killed about 40 people.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said last week that Powell would try to see if there were a way "to lower the temperature" between the two countries.


EDITOR'S NOTE -- Gannon contributed to this report from Jalalabad, Afghanistan.


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