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U.S. jets hit Taliban front line, supporting Afghan opposition
QALAI DASHT, Afghanistan -- U.S. warplanes bombarded Taliban positions Sunday near a front line north of the capital, Kabul, marking what could be the start of a more aggressive campaign on behalf of opposition forces fighting the Islamic regime.
In Kabul, meanwhile, grieving neighbors pulled dust-covered bodies of seven civilians -- three women and four children -- from the ruins of two homes destroyed Sunday by a U.S. bomb. "This pilot was like he was blind!" sobbed one neighbor.
In Pakistan, the U.N. refugee agency renewed appeals Sunday for Afghanistan's neighbors to open their borders to the refugees -- including up to 15,000 trapped on the "no man's land" near the Pakistani town of Chaman.
The attacks Sunday marked the closest and most intense U.S. strikes so far against Taliban positions defending Kabul from northern alliance forces, which have been stalled for years 12 to 25 miles north of the city.
Behind front lines
U.S. jets streaked over the opposition-held Panjshir Valley, and opposition officials told a reporter in the area that they appeared to strike Taliban positions about one mile behind the front line.
Several eyewitnesses, including journalists and residents, also reported Taliban positions bombed in the area.
"We are hoping this will be a big help for the future of our forces," Waisuddin Salik, an opposition spokesman, said.
Afghanistan's anti-Taliban forces, an alliance mostly of minority ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks, have been urging the United States to provide close air support for their forces so they can advance on the capital.
However, the United States and Britain had been reluctant to help the northern alliance seize Kabul until a broad-based government had been formed to take over from the Taliban.
Since the U.S.-led air campaign began Oct. 7, U.S. attacks against Taliban front line positions were mostly limited to strikes near the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
U.S. warplanes resumed attacks Sunday in that area, striking targets in the provinces of Balkh, which includes Mazar-e-Sharif, and Samangan to the east of the city, according to the Afghan Islamic Press.
Taliban spokesman Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi claimed Taliban forces drove back an opposition attack in the area despite the U.S. airstrikes.
Afghan officials also reported more attacks Sunday near the western city of Herat and Kandahar in the south.
In Kabul, U.S. jets struck at midmorning in the Khair Khana section of the city. One bomb crashed into a residential neighborhood, destroying two houses. An Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of seven dead at the scene and later at a city hospital. All were said to be related.
Attending an economic summit in Shanghai, China, President Bush said the United States had been "as careful as we possibly could" to avoid killing civilians.