Strikes on terrorist hide-outs intensify

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. warplanes intensified bombing raids on terrorist hide-outs in eastern Afghanistan on Monday in hopes of striking Osama bin Laden's die-hard supporters, and the United Nations called on donor nations to step up aid to rebuild the country.

The Zawar region along the border with Pakistan, where al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts are believed to have taken refuge in a complex of mountain caves, has been under air assault for nearly two weeks. The attacks are the heaviest since the campaign against the Tora Bora cave complex ended last month.

The tempo of the bombing in Zawar picked up with daylight raids Sunday and continued Monday. The bombing was so intense that it rattled windows in Khost, a town about 20 miles away. Civilians living near the bombing zone were fleeing and said that many people had been killed and wounded by bombs.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said bombing in recent days had destroyed about 60 buildings and closed off 50 caves at Zawar. He said military planners were ending their focus on the area in the hunt for intelligence on al-Qaida and bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks. "It's now time to go look elsewhere," he said.

Aid needed now

In the capital, Kabul, where fighting ended in November after the Taliban militia fled, the spokesman for U.N. Afghanistan envoy Lakhdar Brahimi beseeched nations who have pledged aid money to Afghanistan to come through "immediately, not next year."

"It is time for the international community to stop talking and start delivering help," Ahmed Fawzi said. "This country needs millions of dollars tomorrow. Otherwise, there will be no country when the billions are ready."

He said donor nations have agreed to contribute $20 million, but as of Dec. 31 only $2 million had been handed over. Some 210,000 civil servants and 25,000 police officers have not been paid in months, he said.

Pakistan makes pledge

Pakistan on Monday pledged to contribute $100 million to the reconstruction of its war-ruined neighbor and reopened its embassy in Kabul, moves praised by the United Nations.

"The role of Pakistan is an extremely important one in the future of this region," Fawzi said. "Pakistan and Afghanistan have had a turbulent history in the recent past. They are coming to terms with that history today."

In other developments:

The bodies of six Marines have been returned to the United States as the search continues for the seventh lost in last week's air crash in Pakistan, U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said.

The U.S. military is considering stopping around-the-clock anti-terrorism patrols that fighter jets have been flying over American cities since the Sept. 11 attacks, defense officials said. There have been more than 13,000 flights costing more than $324 million. The military has been authorized to order pilots to shoot down commercial aircraft if necessary.

A second load of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners -- 30 prisoners -- was flown from the U.S. base at Kandahar's airport to a special detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoners -- who join 20 already at Guantanamo -- arrived Monday, the Pentagon said.

The Kandahar base is holding 361 detainees.

The fighters being held at Guantanamo will face intense questioning by investigators seeking information on future terror attacks and on the whereabouts of bin Laden.

A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one prisoner had identified Richard Reid, a Briton accused of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his sneakers, as someone he had trained with at camp run by al-Qaida.

The U.S. airstrikes in Zawar have sent many residents of the region's wretched villages fleeing, while those compelled to stay lived in fear.

"I can't leave. What will I do with my sheep and my cow?" said Eid Mohammed. "I leave and they die. I might as well die too."

Sur Gul, security chief of Khost, said the underground passages continue to shelter Islamic militants -- mostly Pakistanis, Chechens and some of bin Laden's Arab warriors.

Intelligence reports said al-Qaida fighters were using the area to regroup and move out of Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said. U.S. special forces have been seen operating the area and have met with local officials.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: