Fri, Nov 09, 2001 - Page 1 News List

US bombings give Afghan opposition chance to advance

REUTERS , ISLAMABAD AND RABAT, AFGHANISTAN

Afghan opposition commanders planned an offensive yesterday to capture the strategic northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif from the ruling Taliban, whose positions have been pounded by withering US air raids.

US planes roared over the capital, Kabul, en route to drop their bombs on Taliban frontline positions just north of the city on day 33 of the war to punish the Taliban and flush out their guest, Osama bin Laden, the man blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.

The Taliban's stronghold in the southern city of Kandahar was the target of a fierce all-night bombardment that focused on what were believed to be Taliban positions to the west of the city famed for its grapes and pomegranates, CNN reported.

Backed by round-the-clock bombing and buoyed by claims of recent advances, the opposition Northern Alliance said they planned to advance in northern Balkh Province, which borders the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, and launch an offensive on the provincial capital, Mazar-i-Sharif.

US bombing in northern Afghanistan yesterday killed 85 fighters of a Pakistan-based militant group, a spokesman for the militant Harkat Jihad-i-Islami said.

Many Harkat fighters were wounded in the bombing on the Dara-i-Suf area of Samangan Province to the south of Mazar-i-Sharif, spokesman Kamal Azfar said.

No independent confirmation was available for the report, which would mark the deadliest known attack on foreign fighters in Afghanistan since a US raid killed about 35 members of another Pakistani militant group in Kabul last month.

The decision to launch a two-pronged offensive followed a conference of ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, mujahidin veteran Ustad Attah and other commanders on Wednesday night, Nadeem said.

The capture of the city would be a major prize for the Northern Alliance because Mazar-i-Sharif straddles crucial supply routes between Uzbekistan and Kabul and also commands the most important airfield in the north of the country.

The opposition has made scant progress in weeks of fighting, and winter is round the corner.

The opposition said it used 2,000 horses in recent advances in the area this week, but the new offensive would involve the use of tanks and artillery against Taliban fighters, who have been entrenched around the city since they took it in 1998.

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