U.S. Pummels Taliban Military Sites in Tenth Day of Strikes
The explosion came during the afternoon wave of today’s attacks, when one U.S. bomb struck a Red Cross warehouse at Khair Kana, near the Afghan capital.
One worker was injured and one-third of the humanitarian goods was destroyed in fires sparked by the bomb. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke could not confirm the situation, saying military leaders were waiting for more information.
Robert Moni, the head of the Afghan Red Cross which has relocated to Pakistan, said the building was “definitely a civilian target” and was “clearly marked [as an] ICRC warehouse.”
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials have admitted hitting civilian sites by mistake, most notably when a U.S. laser-guided missile accidently hit a residential area near Kabul on Oct. 13.
Before dawn Tuesday, U.S. planes began raids on military bases and airports outside Kabul, Taliban sites near Kandahar, and a key northern city, Mazar-e-Sharif.
Pentagon officials say nearly 100 aircraft and five cruise missiles were used to strike at Taliban military installations and airports over the past two days. Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold told reporters more than 2,000 bombs and missiles have been used since strikes began on Oct. 7.
Taliban sources say Kandahar and nearby villages were heavily hit in Tuesday’s raids, killing over 13 citizens in the region. The Pentagon could not confirm the deaths.
Pentagon officials confirmed reports that two special forces AC-130 “Specters” joined the air campaign for the first time. The AC-130, a low-flying, slower craft, is equipped with heavy machine-guns and cannons.
The Northern Alliance, the main Afghan opposition force, claimed to have advanced closer to Mazar-e-Sharif.
Rumsfeld told reporters Monday the next phase of airstrikes could target Taliban front-line positions in the northeast facing the Northern Alliance guerrillas.
The U.S. also augmented its public relations campaign today, dropping leaflets over Afghanistan saying the West was a friend to Islamic nations.
U.S. planes dropped a half-million propaganda leaflets in the Afghan languages Pashtu and Dari beginning early today. One leaflet showed a photo of an Afghan man shaking hands with a U.S. soldier with the message “The partnership of nations is here to help.” The U.S. is also broadcasting radio messages saying the U.S.’s enemy is terrorism, not Islam or Afghans.
“We have to do a better job [conveying the U.S. position],” Rumselfd told reporters on Monday. “Our cause is just, what we’re doing is right, and we have absolutely nothing to hide.”
National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice appeared on Al-Jazeera, a popular Middle Eastern news network, telling viewers, “We want it to be very clear that the war on terrorism is not a war against Islam.”
Meanwhile, U.S. humanitarian aid to Afghanistan continued today, with four U.S. C-17 cargo planes dropping 70,000 humanitarian food packets to assist the growing number of Afghan refugees.
In Pakistan, Taliban foreign minister Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil appealed for a respite in the U.S. raids to allow the moderate Taliban officials time to convince Taliban hard-line ruler Mullah Mohammad Omar to surrender suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Pakistan meeting with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf separately, did not offer an immediate reply to Wakil’s plea.
Powell agreed with Musharraf that the former Afghan king Zahir Shah and the Northern Alliance would play roles in a future Afghan government.
Musharraf, under pressure from pro-Taliban and anti-U.S. protests, recommended a place for moderate Taliban officials in a future Afghan government; and also stressed a quick end to the war.
Powell will meet tomorrow with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.