November 4, 2001
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US jets carpet bomb Taleban frontlines

K J M Varma in Islamabad

Stepping up efforts to help the Northern Alliance advance, United States B52 bombers on Sunday carpet bombed Taleban frontlines in northern Afghanistan. The opposition also opened a new airstrip north of Kabul, which could help intensify the fight against the ruling militia.

As the US military operation in Afghanistan entered the fifth week, US jets carried by far the largest raid against the Taleban troops, dropping nearly 100 bombs near the frontier with Tajikistan, reports said.

Fierce ground fighting between the Northern Alliance forces and the Taleban continued near the strategic northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif where an earlier opposition breakthrough was reported to have been beaten back by the militia.

Opposition spokesman Nadeem Ashraf was quoted as saying that a joint force of three different commanders was engaged in fierce fighting with the Taleban in the Balkh province, south of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The joint operation was carried out by forces of Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostam, Atta Mohammed of Jamiat-e-Islami and Shiite Muslims led by Mohammad Mohaqik.

Along the Kabul front, Northern Alliance tanks and soldiers conducted military exercises ahead of a possible offensive in the area, reports said.

A new airstrip was opened by anti-Taleban forces with the aid of US military advisors north Kabul when a plane successfully landed and took off.

The Sherkat airstrip, situated at the mouth of Panjshir Valley and some 80 km north of Kabul, became the only usable airstrip controlled by the Northern Alliance south of the Hindu Kush mountains.

Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Islamabad to hold talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on the ongoing war against terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Travelling from Tashkent in Uzbekistan on a C17 military cargo aircraft, Rumsfeld flew briefly over Afghanistan and, according to CNN, observed: "It is a tough terrain. You would not want to march around there too long."

In Tashkent, Rumsfeld held wide-ranging discussion with Uzbek officials about the war in Afghanistan.

Appearing at a news conference with Uzbek Defence Minister Kadir Gulamov, Rumsfeld said the US campaign was showing "measurable progress".

He said his five-nation tour, which also included stops in Russia, Tajikistan, Pakistan and India, did not indicate any change or "ramping up"" in US military operation in Afghanistan.

He said his visits simply represented Washington's effort to rally support against terrorism.

In the US, officials dismissed the latest recorded video broadcast of Osama bin Laden on Al Jazeera as an "act of desperation", which would isolate him from moderate Muslims.

Laden accused Muslims supporting the US-led "anti-terror" campaign of betraying their faith, and called for a holy war to defend the Afghan people.

White House spokesperson Anne Womack said, "This is more propaganda, which shows how isolated Laden is from the rest of the world."


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