United States pounds Afghanistan for second day
WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States pounded terrorist targets in Afghanistan from the air for a second night Monday in an effort to undercut the Taliban militia sheltering Osama bin Laden. Anti-Taliban forces inside Afghanistan appeared ready to strike in concert with the American barrage.
As U.S. warplanes and naval forces unleashed assaults halfway around the world, the Bush administration raised its guard at home.
”We’ve learned that America is not immune from attack,” President Bush said as he created an Office of Homeland Security and put former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge in charge.
The creation of an anti-terrorism office underscored America’s heightened anxiety. The FBI said it was investigating the possibility that the anthrax bacteria detected in two Florida men was the a result of terrorism or criminal action.
”Every American should be vigilant,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said.
The Pentagon said five long-range bombers, 10 sea-launched warplanes and 15 Tomahawk cruise missiles struck an undisclosed number of targets, including early warning radars, Taliban ground forces and military command sites. It was smaller than Sunday’s opening attacks.
Feeding while firing, the U.S. operation dropped 37,000 packages of food rations on Monday – about the same number as Sunday.
U.S. officials said the military strikes, expected to continue at least another day, were designed to destroy terrorist camps and bolster opposition forces fighting the Taliban.
Bush, whose planned meeting Tuesday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff was postponed, has not disclosed his plans to follow up the air strikes. However, U.S. officials said he wants to shake bin Laden and fellow terrorists from Afghan hideouts and into the hands of American or other anti-Taliban ground forces.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush’s staunchest ally, hinted that the offensive would expand.
”In time, (the airstrikes) will be supported by other actions, again carefully targeted,” Blair said. He didn’t elaborate, but the British defense ministry said that ground operations were an option.
Anti-aircraft fire lit the skies over the Afghan capital of Kabul, where electricity was cut and Taliban radio told residents to close the blinds on their windows and remain indoors. A Taliban-friendly news agency said an airport and TV transmission tower were targeted and a bomb landed near a 400-bed women’s hospital – reports that were not confirmed by the Pentagon.
Bush, speaking shortly before the second day’s assaults began, said the opening volley ”was executed as planned.” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had a more modest assessment.
”We cannot yet state with certainty that we destroyed the dozens of military command and control and leadership targets we selected,” Rumsfeld said.
The military campaign is aimed at punishing the Taliban for harboring bin Laden, the man accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington that left more than 5,500 people dead or missing.
U.S. officials lifted any doubt that they wanted the Taliban overthrown.
”The only way that the Afghan people are going to be successful in heaving the terrorist network out of their country is to be successful against … that portion of the Taliban and the Taliban leadership that are so closely linked to the Al-Qaida,” Rumsfeld said.
He said the United States was working with the northern alliance and tribes in the south who oppose the Taliban.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after a Pentagon briefing that the U.S. military is engaged in a war of attrition ”in which the Afghan opposition can gain enough strength and we can weaken the Taliban enough so a broad-based group can take on the Taliban.”
As lawmakers were briefed, U.S. strikes were sending thousands of Afghan refugees in flight from Kabul, their possessions strapped to donkeys. The line of hungry, scared Afghans crossed paths with northern alliance fighters.
The soldiers were moving Soviet-made Scud missiles south toward the capital, apparently preparing for an offensive on Kabul under the protection of U.S. airstrikes.
Other aerial strikes were under way on the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, according to a Taliban official who refused to be identified by name.
At the same time, the Afghan Islamic Press agency said the northern alliance launched a major attack Monday evening on the Taliban position near Dara-e-Suf, not far away.
The display of U.S. military might sparked anti-American rioting in one Pakistan city near the Afghanistan border. Mobs lobbed firebombs into a haze of tear gas while praising bin Laden.
There were protests, too, in Europe and outside the White House, where about 50 demonstrators carried signs that read, ”Stop the bombing.” Some feared retaliation from terrorists.
Ashcroft spoke in grim tones about a long list of steps taken by the government to guard against further strikes, including increased security at nuclear facilities and power plants.
Vice President Dick Cheney was taken to a secret location outside the White House to protect the continuity of government while Bush toils at the presidential mansion – a potential terrorist target.
And the government imposed new security rules limiting passengers to one carry-on bag and one pocketbook or briefcase.
The warnings didn’t stop New York City from conducting a flag-waving Columbus Day parade. ”We’re going ahead with our lives,” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.
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