Warplanes open second week of attacks by destroying phone exchange
WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S.-led forces opened a second week of air strikes Sunday with an assault on the capital’s communications system and more of the ruling Taliban’s military assets.
U.S. warplanes have destroyed nearly all of the targets originally assigned to them, including militant training camps and weapons storage areas, the captain of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier said Sunday.
”We’re sort of in a cleanup mode right now,” said the captain who cannot be identified under military rules for covering the operation.
Expanded ground operations are expected to play a more prominent role in the effort to root out Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network as the air campaign winds down.
Meanwhile, the Taliban sought again to negotiate an end to the bombing, saying they would give him to a third nation if the raids stop and the United States shows evidence he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
President Bush immediately rejected the offer.
”There’s nothing to negotiate,” Bush told reporters at the White House. ”They’re harboring a terrorist. They need to turn him over.”
On the eighth day of the raids, U.S. jets destroyed Kabul’s Chinese-built international telephone exchange, severing one of the last means of communication with the outside world. Residents also said the capital’s historic Mogul-style Balahisar Fort, built in the early 20th century, was in ruins. The report could not be confirmed because security kept outsiders from the area.
Other targets included the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Herat, according to the Taliban Information Ministry. Explosions were heard in the evening well north of Kabul, the capital, in the direction of the front lines between opposition and Taliban fighters.
And the U.S. Air Force was trying to gather more intelligence to check out the Taliban claim that an American missile had killed nearly 200 civilians Thursday in the village of Karam, Pentagon officials said Sunday.
The claim, if true, would make it the deadliest single mistake in the campaign by U.S. and British warplanes.
On Saturday, a Pentagon official acknowledged that a 2,000-pound satellite-guided bomb missed a helicopter at Kabul airport and slammed into a civilian area. As many as four people were killed, according to witnesses and Taliban officials.
The Pentagon has been regularly assessing damage from the raids by using satellite photos and information gathered from spy plane overflights. But officials declined to say exactly what was being used to study the reported missile strike in Karam, which is about 80 miles east of Kabul in an area where bin Laden is believed to train fighters for his Al-Qaida network.
Relaxing a ban that kept foreign reporters out of areas of Afghanistan that it controls, the Taliban took 15 journalists to the village Sunday to see fresh graves scattered about. Villagers said more bodies were buried in the mountains, carried there by residents as they fled after the bombs and it was not possible to independently confirm the number dead.
The Air Force alone flew some 400 sorties in the first week of the operation, including those for refueling, humanitarian food drops and bombing raids, officials said. Navy pilots carried out hundreds more sorties.
The Pentagon also said Sunday that a humanitarian food drop Saturday was nearly doubled to make up for operations canceled Thursday night for still unexplained reasons. Some 69,000 packets of food were dropped for hungry Afghans, many of whom had fled their homes to avoid the bombings.
Bush launched the attacks Oct. 7 after the Taliban militia repeatedly rejected demands to hand over bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in which some 6,000 people are believed to have died.
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