Heavy Bombings Hit Taliban Strongholds
In this latest round-the-clock bombing, B-52s and B-1 bombers dropped 500-pound unguided bombs and 1,000-pound cluster bombs on Taliban troop and garrison targets.
Observers say sites near the capital Kabul received the heaviest strikes to date. Bombs exploded near a Taliban military academy and several artillery units outside the city.
Because the heavy bombing started late in the afternoon, many residents were still at work or shopping in the city’s marketplace. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported that 10 civilians were killed.
Later on Thursday night, a huge blast was heard in the direction of Rishkore, near Kabul, believed to be an al-Qaida training camp. Associated Press sources say that the camp had been vacated for months.
Garrisons around Kandahar, the Taliban’s central stronghold near the southern Afghan border, were also bombed. Targets included the airport and the suspected compound of bin Laden allies and Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban government.
U.S. bombs struck what appeared to be a munitions dump near Kandahar, resulting in a massive explosion. Hundreds of frightened Kandahar residents reportedly fled the area for Chaman, a border town in Pakistan.
U.S. bombers also pummeled a military base around Shamshaad, near the border with Pakistan, and destroyed a site near Jalalabad that the Taliban says was a small village but the Pentagon says was a military camp.
“So far, more than 50 bodies have been recovered and the fear is that the number of martyrs will be more than 100,” a regional Taliban spokesman told the AIP.
Taliban officials reported over 140 civilians were killed in the last 24 hours. The death toll in Afghanistan stands unconfirmed at 220 since the attacks began Sunday.
Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, accused the U.S. of being “thirsty for more bloodshed in Afghanistan.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters today that he and other Americans regret any civilian casualties in the U.S. attacks and restated that the bombs are only aimed at military targets.
“There is no question but that when one is engaged militarily that there are going to be unintended loss of life,” Rumsfeld said “It has always been the case, it certainly will be the case in this instance.”
The intensified bombing campaign came on the same day that the U.S. military suffered its first casualty. Air Force Master Sargent Evander Andrews was killed in a heavy machineryaccident in Aludeid, Qatar. Sargent Andrews, originally from Solon, ME, was assigned to the 366th Civil Engineer Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.
Another officer was seriously injured when he was caught between two vehicles at the Khanabad air base near Karshi, Uzbekistan. The soldier, who remains anonymous, was airlifted immediately to Turkey, and then to Germany for medical treatment.
Pakistani officials confirmed reports that U.S troops and military equipment arrived Wednesday in Jacobabad and Pasni, Pakistani airbases near the Afghan border. Officials emphasized that the 2,000 to 3,000 U.S. personnel are not combat troops, but for logistical support. Pakistan has said it would not allow the U.S. to use airbases to launch direct attacks on Afghanistan.
With the U.S. in control of Afghan airspace, Pentagon officials say that helicopter gunships and special operation forces may be used in order to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida troops allied with Osama bin Laden.
The head of the British armed forces, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce said that U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan could last for another year unless the Taliban surrenders fugitive Osama bin Laden.