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Strategic northern Afghan city hit by jets
Associated Press WriterKANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. jets struck before dawn Wednesday near the southern city of Kandahar and badly damaged a hospital, witnesses said. Air attacks also pounded Taliban positions near the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
A Taliban doctor said that 15 people were killed and 25 others severely injured in the attack on the hospital. Western and Pakistani journalists taken to the hospital saw some of the injured but no bodies.
Two ambulances and two pickup trucks were destroyed in the attack on the hospital of the Afghan Red Crescent, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross, about a mile northeast of the city center, and damage to the building was extensive. The doctor, Obeidallah Hadid, suffered a slight head injury.
It was the first Taliban-escorted tour in the city since the U.S.-led air raids began Oct. 7.
In Islamabad, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, claimed a total of 1,500 people had been killed so far in the assault on Afghanistan, now in its fourth week. The Pentagon has accused the Taliban of inflating civilian casualties and denies civilians are intentionally targeted.
Zaeef also said the U.S. efforts to help the anti-Taliban opposition capture Mazar-e-Sharif showed the U.S.-led campaign was not to combat terrorism but "to establish a puppet government in the north" and "wipe out our Islamic identity."
"This is the worst type of state terrorism that the White House administration is perpetuating in Afghanistan," he said.
President Bush launched the airstrikes after the ruling Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the September terrorist attacks in the United States that killed an estimated 4,000 people.
The official Bakhtar news agency also reported heavy air attacks around Mazar-e-Sharif, which the opposition has been trying to regain since they were driven out by the Taliban in 1998.
Bakhtar gave no details. However, the Afghan Islamic Press, based in Pakistan, said U.S. planes attacked Taliban positions defending Mazar-e-Sharif in the provinces of Samangan and Balkh, as well as Taliban targets in Parwan province northwest of the capital, Kabul.
In separate bombing north of Kabul, witnesses said at least 11 bombs fell Wednesday morning in some of the heaviest strikes yet on the front line. An Associated Press reporter at the front saw six bombs fall.
And in western Herat province, Bakhtar said residents in Jabraheel, west of Herat city, the site of several U.N. refugee camps, have found small explosives the Taliban say were dropped two nights ago when the U.S.-led coalition used cluster bombs. One person died after picking up a small bomb, the agency said. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Afghanistan's opposition northern alliance is preparing for a march on Kabul and has deployed hundreds of crack troops near Taliban front lines north of the city. Taliban positions in those areas were hit by U.S. bombs Tuesday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged Tuesday that the United States had a "very modest" number of uniformed military personnel in Afghanistan, coordinating airstrikes with the opposition.
Rumsfeld said the U.S. soldiers aren't telling the rebels what to do, adding, "These people have been fighting in that country for ages."
A senior opposition official said such coordination will increase, and alliance forces were planning a major offensive to take Mazar-e-Sharif. By taking control of northern regions, the alliance hopes to open supply routes from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to the north.
"There is coordination in all aspects," said Abdullah, the foreign minister of the Afghan opposition's government-in-exile, who uses one name. He added: "There will be much better coordination in the coming days."
Saeed Hussain Anwari, chief of a Shiite Muslim faction in the northern alliance, said a few days ago that seven or eight U.S. soldiers in civilian dress were in Kapisa and Parwan provinces, north of Kabul, for meetings with opposition commanders. Anwari described them as "special forces" with "special experience."
Amir Khan Muttaqi, spokesman for the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, said he was unconcerned about the presence of U.S. soldiers with the opposition northern alliance.
"This is not new," he said. "They have been there before since this began. It won't make any difference. I can say proudly Afghans will never be ruled by anyone who is brought in by force."
In other attacks-related developments:
-- The FBI issued a terrorist alert for this week based on intelligence involving Afghanistan and known al-Qaida supporters elsewhere in the world, officials said on condition of anonymity. They said U.S. intelligence is concerned that bin Laden's inner circle has issued new attack orders and that the terrorists might strike even if they can't reach contacts in Afghanistan.
-- After the warning about possible new attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily banned private planes from flying near nuclear power plants. Commercial airplanes, which fly at higher altitudes, will not be affected.
-- Bush urged U.S. lawmakers to support his version of an aviation security bill that would give the federal government control of airport screening without hiring thousands of new federal workers. The House votes Thursday on the legislation.
--The American Red Cross said it has raised enough money to help victims of the terrorist attacks and will stop asking for donations. The Liberty Fund held $547 million in pledges as of Monday.