U.S. jets log deadliest attack on group linked to bin Laden

Wednesday, October 24, 2001



Associated Press WriterKABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A Pakistani militant group confirmed Wednesday that 22 of its fighters were killed in a U.S. attack on Kabul -- the deadliest known strike against a group linked to Osama bin Laden since the air campaign began Oct. 7.

Elsewhere Wednesday, U.S. jets kept up heavy night-and-day pounding of the Afghan capital, with huge explosions in the direction of Taliban military sites on the outskirts. The bombardment marked a return of U.S. warplanes in large numbers to Kabul after three days of attacks concentrated on Taliban front lines to the north.

In Karachi, Pakistan, Muzamal Shah, a senior official of the banned Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, said a U.S. bomb struck a house Tuesday while fighters from his group were meeting there.

Twenty-two of the militants died, including several senior commanders, Shah said. Some of the band had crossed into Afghanistan since the U.S. bombing began to help "devise a plan for fighting against America," Shah said.

Harakat ul-Mujahedeen, or "Movement of the Holy Warriors," is one of the largest militant organizations fighting Indian soldiers in the disputed Kashmir region and was declared a terrorist organization by United States years ago.

It was among 27 groups and individuals whose assets were frozen by the United States, Pakistan and other countries after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, which Washington blames on bin Laden.

On Wednesday, a group of men brought the bodies of eight of the dead Pakistani fighters to Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, hoping to bury them in their homeland. But the Pakistani border guards refused to let them cross, according to the Taliban's local security chief Noor Mohammed Hanifi.

"They said 'you wanted to fight with the Taliban then you can bury your dead in Afghanistan,"' Hanifi said.

President George W. Bush launched the air campaign Oct. 7 after Afghanistan's ruling Taliban repeatedly refused to hand over bin Laden.

Pakistan has called for a broad-based, multiethnic government to replace the Taliban. On Wednesday, about 1,000 Afghans, including tribal leaders, clerics and supporters of the former king Mohammad Zaher Shah, gathered in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar to discuss prospects for a new government.

In other attacks-related developments:

--The Pentagon disclosed new details about Saturday's commando raids into Afghanistan, in which an airfield was seized and documents taken from a Taliban compound that included a residence of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. An Army MH-47 helicopter struck an unknown barrier while it was taking off, shearing off its front landing gear, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said. It returned safely and no one aboard was injured, she said. The chopper's wheels were displayed on television by the Taliban, which claimed to have shot down an American helicopter.

--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. Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said this could include the use of commandos or other ground forces.

--President Bush's plan to allow police to conduct secret searches of terrorism suspects' homes, tap all their cell and home phones and track their use of the Internet appeared headed for a final House vote Wednesday morning. The Senate was expected to follow in the afternoon or on Thursday and Bush could sign it Friday.

--The U.S. House was expected to approve a $100 billion GOP economic stimulus plan Wednesday to address an economic downturn worsened by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It focuses on business and investment tax .

In Afghanistan, attacks persisted late Tuesday and early Wednesday, with U.S. jets striking targets around Kabul and military installations at the Taliban headquarters of Kandahar, Taliban spokesman Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi said.

Residents of the Afghan capital could hear jets streaking northward toward front line positions of the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies facing opposition northern alliance fighters.

At an opposition position north of Kabul, an alliance deputy brigade commander said anti-Taliban forces were bringing in thousands of troops to reinforce their units near the front line.

However, opposition forces had not yet received any orders to try to seize Kabul, Haji Bari said. He complained that U.S. bombardments were insufficient to dislodge the Taliban.

"It's too weak," he said. "Our attacks are stronger than the Americans."

Bari said alliance fighters were withdrawing their positions to put their troops at a safe distance from U.S. bombs hitting Taliban forces. He said that on Monday, three U.S. bombs landed behind alliance lines but caused no casualties.

U.S. jets have been striking front line positions near Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, which opposition forces have been trying to capture since they lost it to the Taliban in 1998.

American support for the northern alliance -- especially along the Kabul front -- threatens to strain relations between the United States and Pakistan, perhaps America's strongest supporter in the anti-terrorism campaign within the Muslim world.

Pakistan had close ties to the Taliban before the Sept. 11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed about 4,000 people. Pakistan also fears the alliance -- a factious, northern-based coalition mostly of minority ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks -- would never be accepted by the Pashtun majority.

The coalition was driven from power by the Taliban in 1996 after four years of internal fighting which devastated Kabul and killed an estimated 50,000 people, mostly civilians.

"We should not allow the kind of atrocities that prevailed in Afghanistan to return," Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told a Lebanese television station Tuesday.

He urged that Kabul be declared neutral "because I see that maybe atrocities (could) start in Kabul" if the alliance recaptures the city.

Eds: Kathy Gannon contributed to this report from Torkham, Afghanistan.

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