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TheTheologin
November 9th, 2001, 09:08 AM
Friday November 9 7:42 AM ET
U.S. Bombs Taliban Targets Near Kabul




By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - American warplanes unleashed dozens of bombs Friday on Taliban positions near the capital. In the north, fierce fighting was reported around the Taliban-controlled city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and opposition forces said they were confident of a victory.

Several explosions resounded on the outskirts of Kabul, and huge plumes of smoke rose along the front line about 30 miles north of the city. Taliban soldiers fought back with anti-aircraft guns after several days of holding their fire.

Col. Zia Hauddin, an opposition commander, said the Taliban had reinforced the front line with about 2,000 troops, mostly Arab and Pakistani volunteers. The Taliban have also brought in ammunition, tanks and other vehicles, he said.

The U.S. bombing ``should be accelerated,'' he said.

Outside Mazar-e-Sharif, the cornerstone of the Islamic militia's control of the north, the front line appeared to be near a ridge south of the city, though the two sides gave conflicting accounts.

``There is heavy fighting. Our forces have moved a little bit,'' Mohammed Hasham Saad, a top Afghan opposition official, said from neighboring Uzbekistan. U.S. bombing was continuing in the area, he said.

The U.S. air campaign has been instrumental to the advance of the opposition northern alliance toward the city, and the Taliban's Bakhtar News Agency reported heavy overnight bombing in the Kishanday district, south of Mazar-e-Sharif.

However, the Taliban repulsed a major opposition offensive at Kishanday and Taliban reinforcements were arriving at the front line, Bakhtar said.

The report could not be independently verified; the opposition said it had taken control of Kishanday earlier this week. Northern alliance spokesman Ashraf Nadeem said commanders were so sure of victory that they had met to discuss how to storm Mazar-e-Sharif without destroying the city.

Alliance officials said they are counting on wholesale defections among Taliban forces in and around Mazar-e-Sharif and an uprising by the city's residents to avoid bloody house-to-house fighting. Taliban commanders, however, have said the morale of their troops is high.

Elsewhere, U.S. jets and B-52 bombers repeatedly hit Taliban targets overnight and early Friday north of Kabul and around Kandahar, the southern city that is the Taliban headquarters.

Witnesses reported about 30 bombs near Bagram, the site of an air base north of Kabul that is controlled by anti-Taliban forces. The opposition has not been able to use the airfield because of the proximity of Taliban troops.

The Taliban fired anti-aircraft guns at U.S. planes and shelled opposition forces, witnesses said. Taliban fire had diminished recently, though it was not clear whether the militia was conserving ammunition or had lost guns to the bombing.

The Pentagon says it has not lost any aircraft to Taliban fire in nearly six weeks of bombing, despite Taliban claims to have shot down at least half a dozen planes and helicopters.

At least 22 civilians and four Taliban soldiers died in bombing across Afghanistan on Thursday, according to Bakhtar. It said seven were killed when a bomb struck near a shrine in a Kandahar district where villagers, often women hoping to give birth to a son, gather regularly to offer prayers.

``Last night, there was a very heavy bombardment north of Kabul. Every two minutes, five minutes, another bomb was dropped,'' said Bakhtar chief Abdul Hanan Hemat.

The Pentagon has said Taliban claims that the bombing has killed and wounded many civilians are exaggerated, and that U.S. jets are only going after Taliban military targets. However, it has acknowledged that some civilian casualties are inevitable.

In Britain on Thursday, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said that bombing Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan could alienate Muslims worldwide, and that civilian casualties were fueling perceptions of an unjust war.

Ramadan begins in about a week, and Musharraf plans to raise the issue with President Bush in New York during the weekend. He returns to Pakistan on Monday.

Musharraf faces opposition at home from pro-Taliban groups who resent his decision to side with the United States in its military campaign in Afghanistan. Those groups staged nationwide protests Friday, and three demonstrators were killed in a clash with police in the central city of D.G. Khan.

Bush launched the air assault Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to surrender Osama bin Laden, alleged architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 4,500 people in the United States.

After intensive U.S. bombing, opposition forces have reached within about 10 miles of Mazar-e-Sharif, which the Taliban overran in 1998. But opposition troops appeared to have slowed down south of the city, around a ridge that runs east-to-west.

Telephone links to Mazar-e-Sharif have been cut and conditions inside the city for the estimated 200,000 civilians are unclear. Most inhabitants are ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks - like the opposition - while the Taliban are almost entirely Pashtuns.

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