U.S. B-52s pound Afghan frontlines
07 November, 2001 12:45 GMT
By Sayed Salahuddin and Yannis Behrakis
KABUL/RABAT (Reuters) - Giant B-52 bombers have pounded the front lines of the Taliban forces north of Kabul but the ruling militia says U.S. bombs have failed to dent their fighting ability and had killed more civilians.
At least five waves of B-52 bombers flew over the front line, on the first round dropping huge single bombs and then pounding the entrenched Taliban positions with strings of smaller blasts, said Reuters photographer Yannis Behrakis on Wednesday.
"They have hit the right places," said Northern Alliance commander Asil Khan as he watched the raids, adding that the planes had targeted Arab and Pakistani fighters from Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network who have taken up positions at the front.
Huge columns of smoke rose as Northern Alliance forces in observation posts cheered the U.S. attacks on the Taliban fighters.
Amid the bombardment aimed at weakening the entrenched forward fighters of the Taliban, the opposition said they had moved troops forward in northern Balkh province closer to the strategic provincial capital, Mazar-i-Sharif, in a sign of a possible offensive.
"We have moved fighters to Shurgar," Ustad Mohakik, the leading Shi'ite Muslim commander in the disparate Northern Alliance, told Reuters in Islamabad by satellite telephone from near the front in the north.
Shurgar is some 38 miles south of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Forces loyal to ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum had also moved towards Shurgar, Mohakik said, a day after the opposition claimed the capture of Keshendeh, 25 miles south of Mazar-i-Sharif. The area has changed hands several times since May in clashes between the Taliban and Dostum's forces.
The anti-Taliban forces say they have recently gained ground in Balkh province bordering Uzbekistan in a slow-moving campaign to try to capture Mazar-i-Sharif, which commands a strategic east-west highway and key supply link to Kabul as well as a major airfield.
Muhakik has said 400 Taliban defected to Alliance forces who recovered a large amount of Taliban weapons and ammunition.
None of the reports could be independently verified.
In Kabul, U.S. planes en route to the front line could be heard through the night and into the dawn in the skies on the 32nd day of the American air assault.
Taliban officials said the aircraft had pounded the front lines, both to the north of Kabul where their forces face those of the Northern Alliance across the lush Shomali plain, as well as positions in the north of the country.
The officials said the raids had had little impact on their fighters, but had claimed civilian lives.
At Surkhrod near the eastern city of Jalalabad, six people were killed and seven wounded when a bomb hit a village, said Information Ministry official Qari Fazil Rabi.
PARADE OF DEFIANCE
During the night, a U.S. warplane fired two missiles into central Kabul, sending up a column of smoke and dust behind a school.
"There was a bang, a whizzing sound and then another explosion," said Reuters correspondent Sayed Salahuddin.
And in a warning to anyone considering raising rebellion, the Taliban executed Izzatullah, 22, nephew of slain former mujahideen commander Abdul Haq, and handed his body to relatives in Jalalabad.
"We have got the body in Jalalabad yesterday where he was buried alongside Mr Abdul Haq," said Mohammad Yusuf, a cousin of Izzatullah, speaking from Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar bordering Afghanistan.
Commander Abdul Haq, a supporter of former Afghan King Zahir Shah, and at least two companions were summarily executed by the Taliban within hours of their capture after a gunbattle in Afghanistan late last month.
Haq, Izzatullah and several companions had slipped into Afghanistan to lobby for the former king against the Taliban, under attack by Washington for sheltering Osama bin Laden, main suspect in the September 11 attacks on the United States.
"We don't know whether he was hanged or shot," Yusuf said.
Haq was buried at the family home in Surkhrod, near Jalalabad, and his death was seen as a major blow to those who favour the king.
The raids throughout Tuesday night and into the morning targeted Taliban tanks and artillery overlooking Bagram airbase, which is held by Northern Alliance forces, dropping enormous bombs, witnesses said.
"It felt like several earthquakes just after midnight," said a Reuters photographer. "The house shook twice and each time there were four or five tremors from the bombs."
An Alliance commander on Tuesday welcomed the use of B-52 heavy bombers to pound strips of ground and carpet-bomb small areas, but Taliban reinforcements have been reported arriving at the front in their hundreds almost every day.
Washington appears to be putting pressure on the Alliance to seize the initiative and take some territory from the Taliban, but the opposition army is ill-equipped for an all-out offensive and there have been few real signs of an impending push.
The Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said late on Tuesday his forces north of Kabul were ready but he did not say when an offensive would start.
"We don't need more time in order to be more prepared militarily," he told the BBC.
The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency has said its estimates showed the U.S. bombing had killed a total 633 civilians and wounded up to 1,000 in the first 29 days of the campaign.
The Taliban have said 1,500 civilians have been killed. The United States rejects Taliban civilian casualty figures as exaggerated.
|Back to News Archirves of 2001|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).