Explosions shake Kabul in U.S. raids, weapons sites targeted
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Huge explosions shook the Afghan capital throughout the day Monday with two more jets reported attacking the northern part of the city early today.
The Monday air strikes sent terrified residents scurrying for shelter, as U.S. jets pounded suspected weapons storage sites in Kabul and across the country.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking at the Pentagon, suggested U.S. airstrikes could start targeting Taliban front-line positions facing Afghan opposition fighters in the northeast of the country.
The opposition alliance claimed Monday it had advanced close to Mazar-e-Sharif, the largest city in the north, and that some 4,000 Taliban troops defected over the weekend. The Taliban denied the defection claim.
The attacks Monday against Kabul started just before sunrise and continued through the day into the night. Taliban gunners fired in vain at the attacking planes, some so high they could not be heard from the ground.
The attacks in Kabul appeared to be directed at weapons and ammunition storage sites in the hills north of the city of 1 million people and around the airport.
In one nighttime raid, 10 huge explosions in the direction of the airport shook buildings miles away.
One bomb exploded near a U.N. World Food Program warehouse on the northern edge of Kabul, slightly injuring one Afghan employee, U.N. spokesman Khaled Mansour said in Pakistan.
In the Jalalabad area of eastern Afghanistan, U.S. jets struck the regional military headquarters near the airport and Tora-Bora, a suspected terrorist training camp of Osama bin Laden.
An Afghan refugee arriving in the Pakistani border town of Chaman said a suspected ammunition depot in Kandahar, the southern city where the Taliban leadership is based, was ablaze after a hit Monday by U.S. missiles.
The United States launched the air campaign on Oct. 7 to root out bin Laden – the top suspect in Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States – and to punish Afghanistan’s rulers, the Taliban hard-line Islamic militia, who harbor him.
Rumsfeld said warplanes had dropped leaflets over Afghanistan for the first time Monday.
In other developments Monday:
– In neighboring Pakistan, pro-Taliban Islamic militants closed thousands of shops throughout the country and clashed with police to demand an end to the bombing campaign. But compliance with the strike was limited, and some shops were open even in border cities where sympathy with Taliban is high.
– U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Pakistan to meet with President Pervez Musharraf and discuss reopening military ties.
– The USS Theodore Roosevelt was getting into position in the region, bringing to four the number of aircraft carriers involved in the campaign.
– The U.S. military has paid millions to buy exclusive rights to some of the commercial sector’s best satellite imagery of Afghanistan – aiming to prevent the Taliban from getting hold of it.
The Taliban Information Ministry claimed 12 people died Monday during a raid in western Badgus province. The Taliban said some 200 civilians were killed Thursday when U.S. jets attacked the village of Karam in eastern Afghanistan.
In Washington, Rumsfeld said some of the Taliban casualty claims were ”ridiculous.” But he acknowledged that some Afghan civilians have been killed unintentionally, without offering specific numbers.
He said U.S. planes have so far avoided striking Taliban positions on the front lines because of incomplete targeting information. But he said that might soon change.
”I suspect that in the period ahead that’s not going to be a very safe place to be” for Taliban fighters, he said. ”We hope to have improved targeting information in the period ahead.
Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, has pressed for the U.S.-led air campaign not to directly help opposition troops. Pakistan fears the northern alliance, its longtime opponent, will seize power from the Taliban.
The Afghan opposition said Monday its troops had advanced to within three miles of the airport at Mazar-e-Sharif, a strategic city the Taliban have held since 1998.
”Thank God, the Taliban forces are unable to take the help of their air forces,” opposition spokesman Mohammed Ashraf Nadeem said.
The claim could not be independently verified, and the Taliban had no immediate comment.
But Taliban officials denied an opposition claim that 4,000 of the militia’s fighters under a single commander had surrendered to rebel troops on Sunday. Taliban Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal said the commander in question had never had so many soldiers under his authority.
There were signs the attacks were increasing the suffering of the Afghan people, already impoverished after more than 20 years of civil conflict.
At a Kabul hospital, doctors and mothers said the nightly power cuts were threatening the lives of newborns, especially premature babies who require incubators.
”Please have mercy on us and don’t kill us,” begged Rahim Biba, mother of an infant born two months prematurely. ”We are already in trouble. Don’t add to our miseries.”
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