U.S. forces blast al-Qaida stronghold

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- U.S. jets struck Taliban front lines and an Osama bin Laden stronghold north of Kabul on Tuesday -- attacks the opposition hopes will open the way for an advance on Kabul. But Taliban troops held their ground, launching rockets and mortars toward positions held by the northern alliance.

After sundown, American jets also returned to Kabul, repeatedly blasting targets on the outskirts of the city in what appeared to be one of the largest attacks in the capital area.

Opposition and Taliban officials also reported U.S. attacks around the key northern city Mazar-e-Sharif, where an offensive last week by the opposition northern alliance faltered. The Taliban claimed they repulsed opposition attacks that followed the American bombardment.

Oil supplies burned

American warplanes set fire to critical Taliban oil supplies in the Taliban headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar -- said to be all but abandoned by its half million inhabitants after weeks of attacks.

In other developments:

The Pentagon said two U.S. helicopters came under fire in Pakistan as their crews tried to retrieve the wreckage of another helicopter that had crashed during a covert weekend commando raid.

Three U.S. bombs went astray over the weekend, with two landing in a civilian neighborhood near Kabul and the other near a senior citizens' center in Herat, the Pentagon said. The military said it had no information on casualties.

Britain will send troops and equipment to join the U.S.-led military effort against Afghanistan, though just how much has not been decided.

Italy offered the United States an armor regiment, attack helicopters, fighter jets and specialists in nuclear, chemical and bacteriological warfare for the coalition against terrorism.

President Bush initiated the air campaign Oct. 7 after the Taliban repeatedly refused to surrender bin Laden, chief suspect in last month's terror attacks in the United States.

British Secretary of Defense Geoff Hoon said Tuesday that the military strikes on Afghanistan have destroyed nine of bin Laden's terrorist training camps and severely damaged nine airfields and 24 military garrisons.

In recent days, U.S. forces increasingly have shifted the brunt of their attacks to Taliban positions on front lines outside Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, hoping to break Taliban defenses around the key cities.

On Tuesday, U.S. jets streaked in high over the front line at Kabul, then swooped in to drop their bombs while villagers gawked and pointed.

"There it is," residents of the opposition-held community cried each time a white speck appeared in the sky.

Some of the bombs struck the village of Uzbashi, an al-Qaida encampment near Bagram, opposition spokes-man Waisuddin Salik said. Arab fighters of bin Laden's network are believed to make up the core of Taliban forces at the front north of the capital.

Opposition commanders said the Taliban had reinforced their positions and moved them closer to alliance lines in hopes of making it more difficult for U.S. pilots to tell which are the right targets. On Monday, one bomb fell behind alliance lines but there were no reports of casualties.

In the nearby village of Qalai Dasht, Taliban and northern alliance fighters face off against one another from roofs of mud huts barely 50 yards apart.

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