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Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Taliban front line hit hard

October 28, 2001

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— In what witnesses called the heaviest such strikes of the air campaign, U.S. warplanes staged a daylong assault Saturday on Taliban front lines in the north of Afghanistan.

However, Britain's Sky News television reported one of the U.S. missiles went awry and struck a village behind anti-Taliban opposition lines. A family of 10 was missing and 20 people, all but one civilians, were injured, Sky News reported.

Kate Rowlands, program coordinator of the Italian-run Emergency hospital in nearby Anawa, confirmed that there had been injuries in the attack but refused to give details.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesmen said they had no information on the Sky News report.

Rebels confronting Taliban troops north of the capital, Kabul, have been complaining publicly that the American airstrikes weren't doing enough to advance their cause. It wasn't known if Saturday's raids were in response to that, but an opposition spokesman said he was pleased with the day's raids.

Pakistan fears 'quagmire'

With three weeks of bombing having failed to break the Taliban's hold on Afghanistan, the president of neighboring Pakistan a key U.S. ally in the confrontation over Osama bin Laden said he hoped the war wouldn't become a "quagmire" and that the bombing would end soon.

Over the Shomali plain north of Kabul, U.S. jets dropped massive bombs in an offensive that lasted most of the day. Witnesses called it the fiercest such assault on the Kabul front since the start of the air campaign on Oct. 7.

Gul Agha, an opposition fighter, said he counted more than 20 bombs, and elderly farmer Saeed Khan called it the heaviest such bombardment to date.

At the front line near the rebel-controlled Bagram air base, opposition spokesman Bismillah Khan described the airstrikes as intense. "It was a very good bombing," he said.

The private Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press, citing Taliban officials, said nine people had died and 15 were hurt in the raids, but gave no details. No independent confirmation could be obtained.

Taliban fighters shot back with salvos of anti-aircraft fire at the American warplanes and rockets and mortars at fighters of the opposition movement known as the northern alliance. Explosions from all sides rang out at the front line at Jom Qadam, 25 miles north of Kabul.

Errant bombing reported

In its report, Sky News said a U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet could be seen headed in the wrong direction toward an area of the anti-Taliban forces. Moments after the jet fired its missile, Sky News said the opposition's radio reported a bomb hit the village of Ghanikhil 2 miles inside opposition territory.

Sky News broadcast pictures from the village showing a young girl with a bloodied face and hand, lying on the ground near piles of rubble and the remaining walls of a house on the edge of the village.

A 7-year-old boy, nestled in the arms of a young man, had cut hands and feet. Nearby, a 22-year-old man, wounded in the abdomen, was shown being transported in a wheelbarrow to the nearest road.

"Why has America attacked us?," an elderly man asked. "We are civilians. We thought America was our friend. Please tell them to stop bombing us."

Elsewhere, the Taliban claimed Saturday to have beaten back a new opposition push outside the strategic northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The reported setback for the anti-Taliban forces near Mazar-e-Sharif came on the heels of another one Friday's summary execution by Taliban forces of opposition leader Abdul Haq. He had crossed into Afghanistan to try to persuade Afghan tribal leaders to abandon the Taliban and throw their support to exiled former Afghan king Mohammad Zaher Shah.

Haq's family said the Taliban agreed to return the body and he was to be buried Sunday in Peshawar, Pakistan.

"If one Abdul Haq is dead, I think a thousand more Abdul Haqs will come up," his brother Abdul Qadir, a senior rebel commander, told The Associated Press at his home in the opposition-controlled town of Jabal Saraj.

Executions continue

In Washington, Robert McFarlane, national security adviser for Ronald Reagan, said Haq and his comrades frantically phoned American supporters for help after they were surrounded by Taliban fighters. American military help arrived but too late.

The execution of Haq and growing civilian deaths in a bombing campaign which has failed to crack the Taliban have raised concerns in Pakistan and other Muslim countries about Washington's strategy in the anti-terrorism drive.

Several Muslim leaders have recommended that the United States suspend the bombing during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins around Nov. 17.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, suggested in an interview with ABC News that the nature of the conflict posed the threat of a long entanglement for the U.S.-led coalition.

"If the military objectives are such that their attainment is causing difficulty ... then yes, it may be a quagmire," he said.

Separately, Musharraf told reporters after meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok that he hoped the campaign could end soon.

"One can only hope and wish that the military objectives are achieved and it remains as short as possible," he said.

In Kabul, overnight raids claimed at least two civilian lives, said Dr. Mohammed Ullah, a physician at the hospital where the bodies were taken. Shrapnel killed one man and a stray bullet struck the other victim on his rooftop as he watched the fiery sky, the doctor said.

U.S. bombs honed in on the Taliban's sprawling military compound in Kabul, just across from the long-abandoned U.S. Embassy. Other strikes hit an ammunition depot on the city's eastern edge overnight, sparking bright-red explosions.

The United Nations said a U.S. bomb struck the U.N. Mine Dog Center in Kabul on Thursday, killing two Belgian shepherd dogs used to help clear mine fields. None of the Afghan staffers at the office were hurt, U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said Saturday.

In other developments:

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it deplored a strike on its warehouse in Kabul the second this month. The Pentagon said it was an accident. The ICRC said the warehouse had contained the bulk of the food and blankets it intended to distribute to tens of thousands of needy Afghans.

French journalist Michel Peyrard will stand trial for espionage and other charges within a few days, the Afghan Islamic Press said Saturday. Peyrard, a journalist for Paris Match who was arrested Oct. 9, is in good heath, the agency quoted an unnamed Taliban official as saying.

Thousands of would-be fighters headed from northern Pakistan toward the Afghan border Saturday at an influential cleric's request, vowing to help protect Afghanistan and the Taliban from any incursion by U.S. ground forces.

Kenzo Oshima, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, dismissed calls for a pause in airstrikes to allow more aid into Afghanistan, saying the U.S.-led military assault had not significantly disrupted aid flow.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees began a three-day visit to refugee camps near the Pakistan border on Saturday. Ruud Lubbers went first to Quetta near the Chaman border crossing, where thousands of fleeing Afghans have tried to enter Pakistan.

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