Fourth Day of Air Strikes Against Afghanistan
Reports from the region said loud explosions were heard in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and the southern city of Kandahar, where the Taliban government is based.
Witnesses in Kabul said Wednesday night’s raids were the most intense the Afghan capital has seen since the military strikes began on Sunday. The power was cut and residents reported hearing anti-aircraft fire.
Before the most recent strikes, at least 76 people had been killed and 100 injured across Afghanistan as a result of U.S. and British air strikes, according to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP).
The opposition Northern Alliance, which has fought against the Taliban since 1996 and controls about 10 percent of Afghanistan, has reported making some headway since the raids began.
Some 1,800 Taliban fighters out of an army of around 20,000 men have reportedly defected and joined the Northern Alliance in the past 24 hours. “They have come over with weapons, ammunition, everything,” said Abed Nadjib, an official at the Northern Alliance’s embassy in Germany.
The Northern Alliance also seized control of the only remaining north-south highway in the poor, rugged country, and have advanced into Taliban-held territory, Nadjib said.
Taliban officials responded the the Northern Alliance has not gained any ground since the strikes began.
At the Pentagon, officials said the strikes today included the first use of 5,000-pound bombs designed to penetrate hardened bunkers, as well as cluster bombs intended to destroy vehicles and troops.
Defense officials who wished not to be named told the New York Times that the United States might add troop-carrying helicopters and special forces to hunt down guerrillas tied to Osama bin Laden, but cautioned that such action would take time to prepare.
In the meantime, the United Nations has reported Taliban assaults on U.N employees in Afghanistan. Although the United Nations withdrew its international staff from Afghanistan two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, hundreds of Afghan employees remained behind..
“Staff have been beaten in Kabul, Kandahar and in Jalalabad,” U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. “A significant number not yet specified of vehicles have been taken by the Taliban in Kandahar.”
Earlier Wednesday, the Taliban issued conflicting statements regarding its control of Osama bin Laden.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen declared that, as a result of the military strikes, bin Laden would be free to wage a holy war on the United States and his activities in Afghanistan would no longer be restricted.
“With the start of the American attacks, these restrictions are no longer in place,” Mutmaen told BBC. “Jihad is an obligation on all Muslims in the world. We want this, bin Laden wants this and America will face the unpleasant consequences.”
But shortly after, Taliban Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said bin Laden would not be permitted to use Afghanistan to plan hostile attacks.
“We have permitted Osama bin Laden only to issue statements,” AIP quoted Muttaqi as saying. “But there is still a ban on Osama using Afghan soil for acts against any other country.”