U.S. Hits Taliban Front Lines
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed reports today that U.S. warplanes began to attack the Taliban’s front line troops around 35 miles north of Kabul to help the opposition Northern Alliance militia advance.
“Our efforts from the air clearly are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground,” Rumsfeld said Monday, in the Pentagon’s strongest statement of support for the Northern Alliance.
“We have been ready and we certainly are ready to have the alliance forces move, both north and south,” the secretary said.
Rumsfeld explained that the shift of focus from fixed military targets to Taliban troops is a logical progression toward the goal of destroying the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network they harbor.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers echoed Rumsfeld’s statements, telling reporters, “our operations involved a greater emphasis on fielded Taliban forces, rather than fixed structures.”
Over 10,000 front-line Taliban troops defended the Afghan capital by launching anti-aircraft missiles at the U.S. strike jets. The AP reported that the Taliban’s 55th Brigade, its most feared military unit comprised of Arab militants from many different countries, was moving north to supplement Taliban defenses.
The U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets also bombed the northern city Mazar-e-Sharif, where the Northern Alliance and Taliban forces have been fighting for control since 1996.
There have been no reports of significant victories for the Northern Alliance opposition group in Mazar-e-Sharif or north of Kabul.
Defense Department officials also denied Taliban reports that they had shot down U.S. helicopters near Kandahar, captured members of the United States Special Forces, and killed another 25 soldiers.
“I think that is the Taliban wishing for some good news,” General Myers responded. “That is not correct.”
The Pentagon says a Black Hawk helicopter did crash Saturday during a landing accident at a Pakistani air base, killing two soldiers, Pfc. Kristofor Stonesifer and Spec. Jonn J. Edmunds.
The Taliban also allege that U.S. warplanes bombed a hospital in Herat, in western Afghanistan, killing at least 100 people. There has been no independent verification of this report.
“More than 100 were martyred. Patients and doctors were killed,” Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef told reporters Monday. “It is now clear that American planes are intentionally targeting the Afghan people.”
Rumsfeld denied the claims, saying, “We have absolutely no evidence at all to suggest that that allegation … is correct. I’m sure it’s not.”
Rumsfeld could not give reassurance that the air campaign would stop during Ramadan, a Muslim holy period, in mid-November.
“History is replete with instances where Muslim nations have fought among themselves or with other countries during various important holy days for their religion and it has not inhibited them historically,” Rumsfeld said Monday.
Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who met with U.S. Secretary of State Powell last week, has urged a quick end to the military campaign.
“One would hope and wish that this campaign comes to an end before the month of Ramadan, and one would hope for restraint during the month of Ramadan because this would certainly have some negative effects in the Muslim world,” Musharraf said Sunday.