KABUL: Afghanistan's Taliban regime said Monday
it was ready for decades of war as it fought a new opposition drive, backed by
"cowardly" US airstrikes, towards the key northern city of
( AFP )
At the same time, the military commander of the opposition forces said his
troops were ready to march on the capital Kabul, although on the ground the
anti-Taliban army looked far from ready for a major push.
And while the United States pressed its nearly month-old air offensive, there
were few signs of progress in its drive to root out the terrorists behind the
September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
"We are ready for a long war and we hope to defeat the United States,
which the rest of world calls a superpower," Taliban Education Minister
and spokesman Amir Khan Muttaqi told reporters here.
"The US should revise its wrong, terrorist policies, otherwise this war,
which may last for decades, will burn many Americans and Afghans."
Fighting has raged in north-central Afghanistan where rebels of the Northern
Alliance were trying to move toward Mazar-i-Sharif, potentially a key supply
and staging area in their fight against the Islamic Taliban militia.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said the militia had
turned back a "severe offensive" in three districts south of
He said that 30-35 opposition troops died in the battle, with 10 civilians
killed and 15 wounded by US bombs dropped in support of the campaign.
The opposition claimed Saturday to have taken one of the districts, Aq-Kupruk,
located 70 kilometers south of Mazar-i-Sharif. But it said the Taliban later
reclaimed a part of the district.
Mohammad Ashraf Nadeem, an opposition spokesman close to the front lines,
confirmed that their offensive had been halted but said it was to avoid the US
bombs. He said the attack was soon renewed.
"If we take these districts, we can move to take Shebarghan (a town to
the west of Mazar-i-Sharif) and then we'll be closer to Mazar," Nadeem
He said the US bombing was virtually non-stop. "I haven't seen the bombs
stop falling for more than 10 minutes since yesterday morning."
The districts south of Mazar-i-Sharif are one of three frontline areas
targeted by the Americans in their drive to topple the Taliban for harboring
Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, wanted for the September 11 terror attacks
on the United States.
US B-52 bombers and strike aircraft also have been pounding Taliban positions
in northeastern Afghanistan where the Northern Alliance are fighting for
control of supply routes into neighboring Tajikistan ahead of winter.
American planes have also hit at Taliban forces dug in about 50 kilometers
north of Kabul. A B-52 made four runs Monday over the Taliban entrenched on a
hill that dominates the western skyline of the Shomali valley.
"The Americans tried to destroy our airfields and radar systems thinking
that our system in Afghanistan is also computerised, but our main strength,
our fighters, are untouched," Muttaqi said.
"They have been attacking from the air but in our tradition we call that
a cowardly war." Troops of the Northern Alliance, which controls about 10
percent of Afghanistan, continued preparations for a threatened ground
offensive on the shattered capital.
"We are ready, but it all depends on our strategy and the
circumstances," opposition military chief General Mohammad Qasim Fahim
told reporters at a military parade at a base in Jabal Seraj north of Kabul.
But the anti-Taliban alliance remains desperately short of fuel, cash and
ammunition, and junior commanders said they were far from ready to launch a
The United States, which began its campaign on October 7, has increased its
special forces' presence in recent days but hopes have faded for a
breakthrough before the harsh Afghan winter that is due in a few weeks.
Diplomats and US officials also warned that Taliban troops could increasingly
pull back to the cities and would be impossible to dislodge without tough
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on a tour of the region, said Sunday the
campaign was making "measurable progress." But it continued to be
dogged by reports of civilian casualties from the bombings.
Taliban officials and the Pakistani-based AIP said at least 36 civilians were
killed early Monday. The Taliban said 18 people were killed in Aq-Kupruk while
AIP said six died in one house in nearby Keshendeh town.
AIP said the six dead were all from the Hazara community -- Shiite Muslims who
oppose the Taliban, which is dominated by the mainly Sunni Pashtun tribes.
The United States is under some pressure to halt the bombings before the
Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts in mid-November, but Rumsfeld said the
threat of new terrorist strikes meant there could be no pause in the bombing.