Archive for Monday, October 22, 2001

U.S. jets press attacks on Taliban positions

Taliban claim hospital was hit

October 22, 2001

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— U.S. jets pounded Taliban positions Monday near front lines outside the Afghan capital and a key northern city, the Taliban said. The attacks appeared aimed at helping Afghan opposition forces advance.

In Islamabad, Pakistan, Taliban Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef claimed U.S. and British jets attacked a hospital in the western Afghan city of Herat, killing more than 100 people. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Britain denied its planes took part in any raid against Herat, and the United States cast doubt on the Taliban claim.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he did not have any specific information about a hospital, "but I put as much credibility in this Taliban report as others that have been proven wrong."

Zaeef also claimed the Taliban had shot down two U.S. helicopters over the weekend one of which landed crippled in neighboring Pakistan, while the other crashed in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has denied any of its helicopters were shot down, though it said a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in an accident Saturday in Pakistan, killing two U.S. servicemen on board.

Meanwhile, a refugee crisis was building at Pakistan's sealed border with Afghanistan. An Afghan man died of wounds suffered when border guards opened fire to force back up to 15,000 trapped Afghan civilians pushing and pleading for entry.

As the bombing campaign went into its third week, the strikes near front lines suggested the start of a more aggressive American campaign on behalf of northern-based opposition forces facing the fundamentalist Taliban regime.

But it was unclear whether the poorly armed and poorly trained opposition forces would be able to make significant gains against either the capital Kabul or the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif something they have been unable to accomplish since the air campaign began Oct 7.

A northern alliance intelligence officer, Motavar, complained that the attacks were not over a wide enough area. "We are satisfied, but we would like a broader bombardment over a larger area," said Motavar, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Haji Gul Rahman, a deputy brigade commander at Bagram, north of Kabul, said there were casualties among the Taliban, but he couldn't say how many.

In the capital, the Taliban's official Bakhtar news agency reported heavy bombing Monday at positions 30 miles to the north.

Bombing in the same area Sunday marked the most substantial U.S. strikes to date against Taliban positions defending Kabul from the northern alliance forces, stalled for years 12 to 25 miles north of the city.

Bedraggled opposition fighters watched, excited, as smoke and dust billowed up. However, there was no report Monday of any opposition advances.

As sunset approached, two U.S. jets dropped six bombs, five of them on Taliban front line positions north of Kabul, while another fell on the northern alliance side. There was no word on casualties.

U.S. jets also mounted fierce attacks throughout the night around the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where opposition and Taliban forces have been stuck in a seesaw battle for days. The strikes devastated two heavily fortified bases that had been guarding the southern approach, damaged tanks and artillery sites and destroyed an ammunition depot, Khan said.

Still, as in the front near Kabul, there were no claims Monday of significant opposition advances around Mazar-e-Sharif.

Taking control of Mazar-e-Sharif would let the opposition control key supply lines for arms from neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But the United States and Britain have been reluctant to help the alliance seize Kabul until a broad-based government is in place to replace the Taliban.

Skies over Kabul were quiet through the night and into the day Monday. A day earlier, a U.S. raid shattered two homes in the city's northern Khair Khana district killing at 13 civilians, including three women and four boys ages 8 to 13.

Zaeef, the Taliban envoy to Pakistan, also said U.S strikes Monday hit two health clinics in south central Urzgan province though he did not know how many casualties resulted in addition to the 100-bed hospital in Herat.

"More than 100 were martyred. Patients and doctors were killed," he said. "It is clear that American planes are targeting the Afghan people to punish the Afghan nation for having chosen an Islamic government."

The Taliban's Bakhtar news agency reported that at mid-afternoon U.S. planes hit the Nawabad section of Herat, destroying five houses and killing eight to 10 people. It did not mention a hit on a hospital.

The Pentagon has said it is targeting only sites linked to the Taliban or Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network, accused in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. U.S. officials have expressed regret for any unintended casualties.

Afghanistan's neighbors have closed its borders to Afghan civilians fleeing the U.S.-led attacks.

Stranded, up to 15,000 Afghans are camped out in a no man's land between the Afghan and Pakistan borders at the Chaman crossing.

Pakistan officials said both Pakistani and Taliban border guards opened fire Sunday to quell a stone-throwing protest by hundreds of the refugees demanding entry. Doctors at Chaman said Monday a 23-year-old Afghan died of a bullet wound. Another bullet injured a 13-year-old Afghan boy.

Pakistan border guards insist they were firing into the air only.

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