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Mon, Nov 05, 2001 - Page 5 News List

US pounds city's defenses

CLEARING THE WAY Warplanes hit Taliban positions and bombed Mazar-e-Sharif. Washington hopes the strikes will let the Northern Alliance move on the city


American warplanes resumed bombing runs early yesterday on several Taliban positions in an effort to clear the way for advances by forces opposed to Afghanistan's ruling movement.

The US forces targeted Taliban lines around the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif in the hope of making it easier for the opposition northern alliance to move on the city.

US jets dropped bombs on the city overnight, but there were no casualties, according to the Taliban-controlled Bakhtar News Agency.

In the capital Kabul, American bombs also exploded near the Intercontinental Hotel, set on a hill in the southwestern part of the city. Nine people were injured, the agency said.

Capturing Mazar-e-Sharif would cut Taliban supply lines to the west of Afghanistan and enable the northern alliance to bring in weapons and equipment from neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

US jets also struck near Taloqan in the north, and at the frontline near Kabul, Atiqullah Baryalai, deputy defense minister of the northern alliance, told reporters by telephone.

Nadeem Ashraf, an opposition spokesman, said the bombing was "very intense" from night until yesterday morning and that the opposition planned to launch an offensive toward Mazar-e-Sharif soon. He acknowledged, however, that Taliban forces were holding and even reinforcing their lines.

North of Kabul, opposition tanks and soldiers conducted military exercises ahead of a possible offensive in that area.

As the bombing entered its fifth week, attempts to craft an alternative political leadership that could replace the Taliban were underway. The northern alliance planned to send delegates to Turkey in the coming days for preliminary talks with other Afghan factions on how to create a broad-based government.

The process is likely to be lengthy and prone to the kind of disputes, based on ethnic, political and religious differences, that have for years prevented a unified, central government from controlling all of the country.

Also yesterday, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in Uzbekistan for talks on military cooperation in the US-led campaign against terrorism. Some 1,000 US soldiers are based in the former Soviet republic, with borders Afghanistan to the north.

Rumsfeld planned to travel later in the day to Pakistan for consultations with President Pervez Musharraf, who chose to support US efforts to unseat the Taliban despite Pakistan's earlier backing of the movement. Some street protests by Taliban supporters in Pakistani cities have turned violent.

US President George W. Bush launched the air assault Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed about 4,500 people.

A US helicopter plucked a sick soldier from Afghanistan under the cover of darkness early Saturday after bad weather caused the crash of the first rescue helicopter, a Pentagon official said.

When the first helicopter crashed, four soldiers on board were injured. The second helicopter picked up the sick soldier and the four who were hurt in the crash.

The Pentagon also confirmed the loss of an unmanned Predator spy plane over Afghanistan -- but insisted it was due to bad weather. It denied Taliban claims to have shot down two US aircraft.

Pakistan and others in the US-led coalition doubt whether the northern alliance -- dominated by Afghanistan's minority ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks -- can win broad approval among the country's dominant Pashtun ethnic group.

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