KHWAJA BAHAUDDIN, Afghanistan: The United States
warplanes carried out intensive bombing of Taliban positions in northeast
Afghanistan near the frontier with Tajikistan early on Sunday, witnesses said.
( AFP )
However, speculation that Kabul could shortly be snatched from the Taliban is
fading fast. The first snow has appeared on the Hindukush mountain range and
Kabul looks set to elude the United States or Northern Alliance until 2002 at
With peaks rising above 5,000 metres, the Hindukush is a formidable barrier
between the Taliban and opposition forces and is almost impossible to cross
once the winter snows set in.
The Taliban control the crucial heights that would prevent any attempt to
advance south on the shattered Afghan capital and they outnumber the alliance
with some 6,000 troops to 4,000 within the immediate theatre.
On Monday, bombing in the zone started at 7 am (0230 GMT) as US air strikes on
the Taliban regime in Afghanistan entered a fifth week.
At least 20 bombs were dropped in the zone in a two hour zone from 7 am (0230
GMT), an AFP correspondent near the frontline said.
Abdul Wakil Omari, deputy head of the Taliban's Bakhter Information Agency,
said just after midnight a US rocket hit a Taliban truck driving in Kabul,
injuring nine militia fighters.
But as there is a strict curfew every night only Taliban fighters would have
been driving in the streets in a truck at this time, residents said.
Omari said the rocket was fired from a US plane or helicopter that flew over
the city. He said none of the injuries were serious.
For the first time, the US B-52s also targeted Taliban positions behind the
frontlines, further to the south. American bombers have hit the Taliban
frontlines in the northeast for five days over the last week.
The Northern Alliance, the Afghan opposition coalition fighting the Taliban,
has most of its forces concentrated in the region.
The Taliban, meanwhile, retook part of Aq-Kupruk district early on Sunday
after almost 12 hours of fierce fighting with the opposition Northern
Alliance, an opposition spokesman said.
Qari Qudratullah, a spokesman for Northern Alliance Commander Atta Mohammad,
said that the Taliban had taken back the eastern part of Aq-Kupruk district,
70 km south of the northern capital of Mazar-i-Sharif.
After hitting a flat spot, the US has ratcheted up its campaign over the
Afghan skies, but Washington is still racing against time to get its logistics
right ahead of the coming winter.
The US must ensure victories that can shore up support among anti-Taliban
forces in northern Afghanistan and help deliver the most sought-after trophy -
terror suspect Osama Bin Laden - once the snow thaws.
Moves in that direction have finally kicked off along Afghan frontlines that
have divided the puritanical Islamic militia from its long-time time foe, the
On frontlines north of Kabul, the US finally answered criticism from the
alliance and carpet-bombed the Taliban.
Plumes of smoke mixed with dust drifted across Taliban positions as B-52s
unleashed their deadly cargo, aimed at softening up the militia ranks for an
eventual push into Kabul by anti-Taliban forces.
Throughout the week, lumbering B-52s dumped their payload on Taliban positions
southwest of Bagram airbase.
A key base at Karabagh and the Old and New Roads that run parallel to each
other, southwards from Bagram into Kabul, were hit as was the Taliban
spiritual home of Kandahar.
Described as a "filthy mess", sources in the southern capital said
that the US appeared to be more focused on military targets.
"Strikes are hitting the outskirts where the military bases are. They're
not focusing on the city proper so less civilians are getting hit," one
But the Taliban also claimed a series of kills. On its list are two crashed US
helicopters, with at least one shot down, leaving up to 50 US troops killed.
The United States acknowledged one lost helicopter, with four servicemen
wounded, due to bad weather. The White House consistently dismisses any
militia claims of success, saying the Taliban leadership is prone to gross
But Washington has now conceded the loss of two helicopters since declaring
war in response to the September 11 terrorist strikes on US soil, blamed on
Bin Laden and his Afghan-based Al Qaeda network.
Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, the deputy director of operations of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, claimed the United States was "tightening the
noose" around Bin Laden with strategic bombing of tunnels and caves
Taliban troops faced intensified US attacks in the northern town of
Mazar-i-Sharif which could prove pivotal if Kabul is to be taken.
As the bombs fell, the Northern Alliance attacked and claimed 80 dead Talibs
after a three-hour battle south of the town on Friday night.
Control of Mazar-i-Sharif has switched between both sides since 1996 and
success for the alliance would spell a victory for the Americans if the city
can be taken and held by anti-Taliban alliances over winter.
This would open up supply lines to river ports on the Amu River and into
Uzbekistan from where Moscow can send its promised 45 million dollars worth of
military hardware to the alliance.
The commitment includes 40 battle tanks and more than 100 armoured vehicles.
Russia has also pledged 50 tonnes of humanitarian aid.
An alliance victory in Mazar-i-Sharif would also cut off Taliban supply links
with troops battling a fresh front opened by the opposition forces over the
last seven days near Taloqan.
Taloqan lies to the east of Mazar-i-Sharif and to the north of the Kabul
frontline, straddling a second route into Tajikistan.
Control of Mazar-i-Sharif would enable the opposition to throttle Taloqan.
The Americans, with special forces already in northern Afghanistan, would
substantially benefit from two open routes across the north.
The roads can provide a crucial transport link during a winter build-up, in
preparation for a possible spring ground offensive.
However, while the United States embarks on an unorthodox war, military
analysts warn that at least some textbook theories still apply.
These includes a maxim that an attacking force needs three times the
opposition's strength for victory as an invading force.
With Taliban troop numbers at 50,000 and reinforcements arriving from Islamic
militant camps around the world - more than 3,000 from Pakistan alone last
week - the US-led coalition faces a long, busy winter.