Washington Forty U.S. and British warplanes and an armada of warships pummeled strongholds of the al-Qaida network and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan on Sunday with Tomahawk cruise missiles, 500-pound gravity bombs and computer-guided bombs.
The demonstration of Western fire power was the first wave of an anti-terrorism campaign promised after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. One senior administration official said the military strikes would be sustained and would last days or more.
"Our objective is to defeat those who use terrorism and those who house or support them," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference about two hours after the attacks began.
Along with the strikes against air defenses of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and their small fleet of warplanes, U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo planes began dropping food and medical supplies inside Afghanistan as part of President Bush's effort to aid displaced Afghan civilians.
Rumsfeld said 37,500 sets of rations were to be dropped in an initial wave Sunday in the beginning stage of a humanitarian operation that might eventually include moving relief supplies by ground.
A Pentagon official said the United States also will conduct operations inside Afghanistan that will not be seen publicly _ the less visible strikes that Rumsfeld alluded to.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 15 land-based bombers _ including B-2 Stealth bombers flying from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. _ and 25 other strike aircraft flying from U.S. aircraft carriers began the attack at 12:30 p.m. EDT _ after darkness fell in Afghanistan. He termed the strike "the early stages of ongoing combat operations" against the Taliban and the al-Qaida network.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said later that Navy F/A-18 and F-14 fighters flew missions off U.S. carriers, and that no land-based Air Force strike planes other than bombers were used in the first round of attacks.
Myers, sworn into office less than a week ago, said the U.S. aircraft used in the initial wave of attacks included Air Force B-1 Lancers, B-2s and B-52 long-range bombers as well as carrier-based strike aircraft. The B-2s flew from Whiteman, but after dropping their satellite-guided bombs, known as Joint Direct Attack Munitions, continued on to Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean. The crews were to rest on Garcia and then fly their planes back to Missouri, officials said.
The B-52s dropped at least dozens of 500-pound gravity bombs on al-Qaida terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan, one official said.
Also participating in the initial wave of attacks were American and British ships and submarines that launched a total of 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles from positions in the Arabian Sea, officials said.
Rumsfeld said it was too early to judge the success of the mission. He said there was no indication that any American plane had been damaged.
Afghan sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the targets included Taliban headquarters in Kandahar, the city's airport facilities, housing for followers of Osama bin Laden, and the home of a Taliban leader.
Rumsfeld said an initial goal of the strikes was to render air defenses ineffective and to wipe out the military aircraft of the Taliban, who rule most of Afghanistan. The Taliban are known to have a small inventory of surface-to-air missiles as well as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and anti-aircraft artillery guns.
"We also seek to raise the cost of doing business for foreign terrorists who have chosen Afghanistan from which to organize their activities, and for the oppressive Taliban regime that continues to tolerate terrorist presence in those portions of Afghanistan which they control," Rumsfeld said.
He said the U.S.-led military effort was focused on achieving several goals:
- "To make clear to the Taliban leaders and their supporters that harboring terrorists is unacceptable and carries a price."
- To acquire intelligence that will assist planning for future attacks against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
- To develop relationships with groups in Afghanistan that oppose the Taliban and al-Qaida.
- To make it increasingly difficult for al-Qaida to use Afghanistan freely as a base of operation.
- To "alter the military balance over time" by denying to the Taliban the weapons they now use in fighting various opposition forces, including the northern alliance and tribes in the south of Afghanistan.
- To provide humanitarian relief to Afghans suffering under the Taliban.