Kabul, Afghanistan Heavy explosions rocked the Kabul airport Thursday afternoon in the first daylight raids on the capital and bursts of Taliban anti-aircraft fire rang out during the fifth day of U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan.
The raids were in retaliation for terror attacks in the United States exactly one month ago.
Earlier in the day, civilians fled the southern Afghan city of Kandahar as raids there targeted a compound where followers of Osama bin Laden had lived. The strikes on Kandahar sent refugees fleeing for the Pakistani border.
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia said at least 115 people had been killed nationwide in overnight strikes late Wednesday and early Thursday, including 100 who died around Jalalabad and another 15 who were killed when a missile struck a mosque in that northeastern city.
The claims could not be independently confirmed.
In neighboring Pakistan, government officials said U.S. military personnel have arrived and the Americans have been granted use of several Pakistani air bases. More than 15 U.S. military aircraft, including C-130 transport planes, arrived over the past two days at a base at Jacobabad, 300 miles northeast of the port city of Karachi.
The Taliban envoy to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, when asked about the reports of arriving U.S. personnel, replied: "When the Americans enter Afghanistan, here will start the real war not now."
Zaeef also made the Taliban's latest casualty claims, and told reporters that bin Laden is restricted from using Afghan territory as a base for attacks. A day earlier, the BBC had quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying restrictions on bin Laden's activities had been lifted.
Meanwhile, the rebels fighting to topple the Taliban claimed Thursday they had taken a key central province after heavy fighting with Taliban forces during the night.
Mohammed Abil, a spokesman for the northern alliance of opposition groups, said by telephone from Pakistan that Afghanistan's Gur province, including the capital, Chaghcharan, fell to opposition fighters shortly after midnight Thursday. Heavy fighting continued into the morning in several provincial areas, Abil said.
The claim could not be independently verified.
The northern alliance considers the province important because of its strategic location. It borders eight provinces including four that the opposition considers crucial to efforts to unseat the Taliban militia, which controls most of Afghanistan.
The morning attacks on Kandahar, the Taliban's home base, appeared to target the airport and its surrounding area, where a sprawling two-story housing complex was built in 1996 by bin Laden's followers. However, it is believed that most of the people living there fled soon after the Sept. 11 assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Wednesday night saw the heaviest bombardment yet of Kabul. U.S. jets pounded the capital late Wednesday and early Thursday, and explosions thundered around a Taliban military academy, artillery units and suspected terrorist training camps.
In two sorties, jets fired at least 11 heavy-detonation projectiles, lighting up the night sky. Taliban gunners returned fire with anti-aircraft weapons. Thick clouds of black smoke rose from the direction of the airport.
At the border crossing into Pakistan that is closest to Kandahar, refugees reported the strikes were escalating. Ekhtiar Mohammed, a brickworker who arrived in the border town of Chaman on Thursday, said he had seen at least 10 people killed and 30 injured in Kandahar over the past four days.
Another arriving refugee said some bombs in recent days had been hitting populated areas, despite U.S. promises that civilians wouldn't be targeted.
"It's not true that the Americans have only been bombing military targets. Many of the bombs are dropping on residential neighborhoods," said Naseebullah Khan, who works at a factory near Kandahar's airport, a repeated U.S. target.
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, appealed to Muslims worldwide to back Afghanistan's fight against the United States, according to reports carried Wednesday on the Web sites of the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Voice of America.
"Every Muslim, having a strong faith, should resolutely act against the egoistic power," Omar said in a statement published on the BBC Web site. The VOA carried a similar report on its site but did not use the quotation.
Word that U.S. personnel are on the ground in Pakistan came from Pakistani government spokesman Anwar Mehmood. He said they were not combat forces, and did not provide any details about their numbers.
Pakistan is providing logistical help and intelligence facilities to the United States in the fight against terrorism, Mehmood said, adding that the U.S. personnel would not use Pakistani territory for launching any attack on Afghanistan.
A Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the United States would be allowed to use Pakistani air bases, including Jacobabad, to carry out recovery operations. Also being offered was a base at Pasani, a remote area west of Karachi.
Pentagon officials in Washington refused comment Thursday, but Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said earlier he was considering more airstrikes, use of special forces commando raids and coordinated missions with rebel forces already fighting the Taliban.
People living near Jacobabad said they had seen unusual movements in recent days, including more planes than usual landing. All roads leading to the base were under guard by paramilitary troops, they said.
Pakistan's support to the United States is an extremely delicate issue politically for Pakistan's president. In recent weeks, at least five people have died in anti-American, pro-Taliban protests in Pakistan.
Militant Islamic political leaders have called for holy war on the United States and condemned President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for his support of the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.
In other developments:
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Thursday that Britain and the United States agree there are no immediate plans for a wider war outside of Afghanistan.
A U.S. Army soldier became the first casualty of Operation Enduring Freedom after becoming trapped between two trucks and suffering critical injuries. The soldier's name and where the accident took place were not released.
Officials said U.S. warplanes would begin dropping cluster munitions anti-personnel bombs that dispense smaller bomblets on mobile targets such as armored vehicles and troop convoys.
President Bush planned to attend a memorial ceremony at the Pentagon to pay tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and address troops.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Gannon contributed to this dispatch from Islamabad, Pakistan.