October 24 Updates
.c The Associated Press
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Oct. 23) - The United Nations confirmed Tuesday that a U.S. bomb struck a military hospital in the western Afghan city of Herat but said it had no information regarding casualties.
However, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said a U.S. bomb went astray near a senior citizens' home in Herat, landing in a field between the home and a military vehicle storage facility. The 1,000-pound bomb was dropped Sunday by an F/A-18.
Clarke said she did not know if the building she called a senior citizens' center was the same as the hospital involved in the report from the United Nations.
Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have said a U.S. and British airstrike Monday hit a hospital, killing more than 100 patients and medical workers. They did not say whether it was a civilian or military hospital.
U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker, citing independent U.N. sources within Afghanistan, said Tuesday that a bomb hit a military hospital within a military compound on Harat's eastern edge.
U.N. officials did not know whether the hospital was being used at the time, or whether any civilians or military personnel may have been hurt, Bunker said in Islamabad.
Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have expelled almost all foreign journalists, making it difficult for media to come up with independent assessments of civilian casualties in the more than two-week-old air campaign.
By MATT KELLEY
.c The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon is vowing to flush out any Afghan fighters who hide in residential areas to escape aerial attacks even as it acknowledges a few of its bombs accidentally struck civilian sites.
``There is not an intention to open or widen (air) attacks in the cities,'' Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said. ``We will find other ways ... to get at those who might cowardly decide to hide in residential neighborhoods.''
Those ``other ways'' could include the use of commandos or other ground forces, Stufflebeem acknowledged Tuesday.
Stufflebeem said the Pentagon also was aiming at roads, trucks, petroleum facilities, food and other supplies that Afghanistan's Taliban leaders need to stay in power, but that choking them off ``is going to be a very long and slow process.''
His warning to Al-Qaida and Taliban troops came as the Defense Department acknowledged stray bombs hit two more civilian areas in Afghanistan.
Late Sunday afternoon, a Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped a 1,000-pound bomb in an open field near a senior citizens home outside the western city of Herat, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said.
The intended target was a vehicle storage building at an army barracks approximately 300 feet from the home. Preliminary indications are that the weapon's guidance system malfunctioned, she said.
Clarke said she was not certain whether the incident corresponded to one reported by the United Nations, which said U.S. bombs hit a military hospital near Herat. The Taliban had said a strike Monday hit a Herat hospital and killed at least 100 people. U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said it was not clear whether the military hospital was in use, and she had no information on casualties.
``As we always say, we regret any loss of civilian life,'' Clarke said. ``U.S. forces are intentionally striking only military and terrorist targets. We take great care in our targeting process to avoid civilian casualties.''
Earlier Sunday, Clarke said, a Navy F-14 Tomcat dropped two 500-pound bombs that mistakenly hit a residential area northwest of Kabul, the Afghan capital. The intended targets were military vehicles parked about one-half mile away. She said she did not know how many people may have been hurt or killed.
Stufflebeem said the United States was prepared to find and strike any new training camps that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network might try to set up. British officials said nine al-Qaida camps had been destroyed, but Stufflebeem said he did not know how many terrorist sites had been hit.
``For as long as al-Qaida has a capability to put terrorists on this Earth, they will find a place to train,'' said Stufflebeem, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ``Our job will be to go after and find those and take them away.''
U.S. airstrikes continued Tuesday with about the same intensity as the previous day, in which about 60 carrier-based strike aircraft, 10 long-range bombers and 10 land-based strike aircraft hit 11 planned target areas, officials said.
Many of the strikes were on Taliban positions north of Kabul, where so-called northern alliance forces are preparing for a possible push to the Afghan capitol. In a Voice of America radio interview Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States would welcome any anti-Taliban push toward Kabul.
``We would like to see every city held by the Taliban taken,'' Rumsfeld said.
Pakistan, a key Muslim ally in the anti-terrorism fight, has opposed allowing the alliance to seize Kabul. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said Tuesday he feared ``that maybe atrocities (could) start in Kabul'' if the alliance took the city.
Stufflebeem also cast doubt on the possibility of ending the air campaign before winter.
``We don't think that's realistic,'' he said.
Muslim nations supporting the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign are pressuring the Bush administration to score a major victory on the ground before the Islamic holy month Ramadan begins around Nov. 17 or agree to a lengthy delay in the Afghan operation.
The Pentagon also disclosed new details about an incident during Saturday's commando raids into Afghanistan, in which an airfield was seized and documents taken from a Taliban compound that included a residence of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
An Army MH-47 special operations helicopter struck an unknown barrier while it was taking off from Afghanistan after the raid, shearing off its front landing gear, Clarke said. It continued the flight without incident and returned safely to an undisclosed base. No one aboard was injured, she said.
The chopper's wheels were displayed on television by the Taliban, which claimed to have shot down an American helicopter and foiled Saturday's raid.
The Pentagon also disclosed that on Saturday a U.S. helicopter that had picked up a crippled Army Black Hawk helicopter that had crashed hours earlier in Pakistan came under hostile fire while refueling at a Pakistani airfield.
Clarke would not say where the chopper was when it met gunfire. She said it aborted the refueling, returned fire and left the area. There were no U.S. casualties, she said.
By STEVEN GUTKIN
.c The Associated Press
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Oct. 24) - U.S. jets struck Taliban front lines and an Osama bin Laden stronghold north of Kabul on Tuesday - attacks the opposition hopes will open the way for an advance on Kabul. But Taliban troops held their ground, launching rockets and mortars toward positions held by the northern alliance.
After sundown, American jets also returned to Kabul, repeatedly blasting targets on the outskirts of the city in what appeared to be one of the largest attacks in the capital area.
War planes apparently renewed the attack shortly before sunrise Wednesday as sounds of heavy bombardment were heard near Kabul's airport.
Opposition and Taliban officials also reported U.S. attacks Tuesday around the key northern city Mazar-e-Sharif, where an offensive last week by the opposition northern alliance faltered. The Taliban claimed they repulsed opposition attacks that followed the American bombardment.
American warplanes set fire to critical Taliban oil supplies in the Taliban headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar - said to be all but abandoned by its half million inhabitants after weeks of attacks.
In other developments:
- The Pentagon said two U.S. helicopters came under fire in Pakistan as their crews tried to retrieve the wreckage of another helicopter that had crashed during a covert weekend commando raid.
- Three U.S. bombs went astray over the weekend, with two landing in a civilian neighborhood near Kabul and the other near a senior citizens' center in Herat, the Pentagon said. The military said it had no information on casualties. The United Nations said a U.S. bomb struck a military hospital in the western Afghan city of Herat but said it had no information regarding casualties. Taliban rulers aid more than 100 patients and medical workers were killed Monday.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said a U.S. bomb went astray near a senior citizens' home in Herat, landing in a field between the home and a military vehicle storage facility. The 1,000-pound bomb was dropped Sunday by an F/A-18. She said it was not know if the so-called senior citizens' center was the same building referred to in the U.N. report.
- Britain will send troops and equipment to join the U.S.-led military effort against Afghanistan, though just how much has not been decided.
- Italy offered the United States an armor regiment, attack helicopters, fighter jets and specialists in nuclear, chemical and bacteriological warfare for the coalition against terrorism.
- BBC-TV reported Tuesday that a U.S. bomb hit a house in Kabul Monday night that was used by the Kashimiri militant group Harakat ul-Mujahedeen. Citing sources inside the organization, the BBC said the bomb killed 22 members of the group which is linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist ring.
President Bush initiated the air campaign Oct. 7 after the Taliban repeatedly refused to surrender bin Laden, chief suspect in last month's terror attacks in the United States.
British Secretary of Defense Geoff Hoon said Tuesday that the military strikes on Afghanistan have destroyed nine of bin Laden's terrorist training camps and severely damaged nine airfields and 24 military garrisons.
In recent days, U.S. forces increasingly have shifted the brunt of their attacks to Taliban positions on front lines outside Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, hoping to break Taliban defenses around the key cities.
On Tuesday, U.S. jets streaked in high over the front line at Kabul, then swooped in to drop their bombs while as villagers gawked and pointed.
''There it is,'' residents of the opposition-held community cried each time a white speck appeared in the sky. Nine blasts sounded, one after the other. Witnesses said at least five of those strikes hit the Taliban front line.
''God willing, these bombs will let us move into Kabul,'' declared one opposition fighter, Saeed Rafik.
Some of the bombs struck the village of Uzbashi, an al-Qaida encampment near Bagram, opposition spokesman Waisuddin Salik said. Arab fighters of bin Laden's network are believed to make up the core of Taliban forces at the front north of the capital.
The bombing, however, seemed only to make the Taliban forces more aggressive. As U.S. jets thundered overhead, Taliban gunners opened up with mortars, rockets and artillery on alliance lines.
One Taliban rocket slammed into the public market at Charikar, 30 miles north of Kabul, killing two people - including a 60-year-old vegetable vendor - and injuring 14 others.
''We want the war to be finished, and an end to the rockets of the Taliban,'' said Mohammad Nabi, whose son was lightly injured. ''Let America bomb them.''
Opposition commanders said the Taliban had reinforced their positions and moved them closer to alliance lines in hopes of making it more difficult for U.S. pilots to tell which are the right targets. On Monday, one bomb fell behind alliance lines but there were no reports of casualties.
In the nearby village of Qalai Dasht, Taliban and northern alliance fighters face off against one another from roofs of mud huts barely 50 yards apart.
Gen. Baba Jan, the alliance commander of the Bagram brigade, said more airstrikes and ''more coordination'' with the Americans were needed to dislodge the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies.
Pakistan, a key Muslim ally in the anti-terror campaign, has opposed allowing the alliance to seize Kabul, fearing that the Tajik and Uzbek-dominated movement will not be accepted by the Pashtun majority.
The alliance is made up of factions which fought against each other when they controlled Kabul. The city was largely destroyed and an estimated 50,000 people were killed before the Taliban captured the capital in 1996.
''We should not allow the kind of atrocities that prevailed in Afghanistan to return,'' Musharraf told a Lebanese television station Tuesday. He urged that Kabul be declared a neutral ''because I see that maybe atrocities (could) start in Kabul'' if the alliance captures the city.
Along the front near Mazar-e-Sharif, a senior opposition commander, Ata Mohammed, said the alliance was massing troops for a major assault on the city, which the Taliban seized in 1998.
Speaking to The Associated Press in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, by satellite telephone, he said a small number of Americans were in the area to coordinate airstrikes.
''We are expecting American airstrikes to back up the attack,'' he said.
Nevertheless, the alliance appeared to be facing stiff resistance around Mazar-e-Sharf. Taliban officials claimed their fighters had repulsed probing attacks launched after American air attacks Tuesday.
Another opposition spokesman, Ibrahim Ghafoori, claimed alliance fighters advanced six to nine miles toward Mazar-e-Sharif in brisk fighting Monday and Tuesday. Opposition patrols had moved closer to the city last week, only to be pushed back by a strong Taliban counterattack.
''They had a very huge defeat some days ago, and will not be able to attack,'' the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, insisted in Islamabad. ''Only the foreigners are encouraging attack at Mazar-e-Sharif.''
In Kandahar, the South Asian Dispatch Agency reported U.S. jets struck an oil depot and a fuel convoy, sending a thick cloud of black smoke rising into the clear blue sky.
U.S. planes also targeted an asphalt plant, setting back Taliban efforts to repair the runway at Kandahar airport, which has been pounded repeatedly during the air campaign, the agency said.
Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. airstrikes have hit every known training camp of the al-Qaida terrorist ring that is the ultimate target of allied military, financial and diplomatic pressure, and that bombing has eliminated most of the ruling Taliban regime's air defenses and communications. As a result, he said, the Taliban and al-Qaida are dispersing what's left of their forces ''to save them.''
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 19 (IPS) - Two weeks into Washington's military campaign in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush's ''war'' against terrorism does not appear to be going as well as planned. While U.S. and British leaders are trying to project an air of determination and confidence, concern about the lack of progress on a range of fronts is growing both here and in Europe, where a rising chorus of relief agencies is calling for a quick end to the bombing.
It did not help that U.S. warplanes have missed or mistaken targets, in one case devastating a village located near a former training camp; in another, destroying a Red Cross supply depot whose roof was marked with a large red cross.
Militarily, the Taliban movement is proving to be harder to crack than expected; diplomatically, efforts to forge a post-Taliban coalition also have been frustrated by the contradictory demands of different factions and external powers.
''While there's still hope the Taliban will fall apart over the next few days, they seem to be hanging on better than we expected,'' said one official here. ''And the longer they hang on, the more difficult it is to get the job done.'' Additionally, already-overworked U.S. diplomats are scrambling to deal with sharply rising tensions between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India - where New Delhi this week moved warplanes closer to their border - and between the Palestinian Authority and Israel - where a far-right government minister was assassinated Wednesday.
Armed conflict in South Asia or a dramatic escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence will almost certainly inflame anti-Western sentiment throughout the Islamic world at the precise moment when the Bush administration is trying to convince Muslims that his war is being waged against terrorism, not Islam.
''We really have more crises than we can deal with at the moment,'' said a Congressional aide. ''People in the State Department feel like a fire brigade.'' The military front has been particularly disappointing. Washington had clearly hoped that the first week of its bombing campaign would prove so devastating to the Taliban's infrastructure and morale that the regime would suffer large-scale defections, leading to its effective collapse by the end of the month.
Earlier this week, top Pentagon officials, encouraged by the desertion of about 3,000 Taliban troops in the north, insisted that the bombing had indeed ''eviscerated'' the Taliban's combat capacity.
But in a clear setback Wednesday, Taliban forces successfully repulsed advancing Northern Alliance rebels around Mazar-i-Sharif. The strategic northern city is considered critical to Washington's game plan.
Mazar-i-Sharif's capture essentially would evict the Taliban from all but Kabul in the northern part of the country and open the way westward to Herat. Pentagon planners also wanted to use its airport - so far spared U.S. bombing - as a staging base for ground forces, many of which are currently deployed just across the border in Uzbekistan.
Even rebel commanders admit that it may take weeks before they can gather sufficient strength to the take the city.
The delay compounds an already difficult political situation.
Washington had hoped, by now, to have the makings of a post-Taliban governing coalition in place.
Such a coalition would be convened under a loya jirga, or traditional tribal council, convened under the authority of the exiled king, Zahir Shah. It would consist primarily of the ethnic factions that make up the Northern Alliance and anti-Taliban Pashtuns, many of whose leaders live in western Pakistan. Pashtuns account for some 40 percent of Afghanistan's population and constitute the Taliban's ethnic base.
Because ethnic enmities run so deep, U.S. policymakers wanted to ensure that the Northern Alliance - consisting of Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara forces - did not storm the capital before a broader coalition was in place. That is why, to the growing frustration of Alliance commanders, U.S. warplanes have not yet unleashed their power against Taliban defenses just 60 kilometres north of Kabul.
The same commanders are even more frustrated in the wake of Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit this week with Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff, who insisted that ''moderate'' Taliban leaders be given a prominent role in any post-Taliban government as a guarantor of Pashtun and Pakistani interests.
Powell's apparent agreement to this demand adds new complications to the quest for a workable coalition that could replace the Taliban.
Northern Alliance leaders, fearful of being marginalised, have begun hinting they may be less inclined to cooperate with U.S. strategy. Anti-Taliban Pashtuns wooed by Washington before this week also have expressed dismay.
The endorsement of a coalition that includes Taliban elements risks undermining the credibility of Washington's anti-terrorist aims, as noted by Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh. He called the phrase ''moderate Taliban'' an oxymoron.
In addition to increasing political tensions among the parties, adding a new element to the coalition also will take time, particularly given the slow progress so far in persuading Taliban military forces to defect.
There are still other complications. Washington has operated under the assumption that, once a new government is installed in Kabul, the United Nations will take responsibility both for peacekeeping and ''nation building.'' But the U.N. Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has hinted that he has other ideas. Although he expressed optimism that a coalition government could be put together, Brahimi, who spent the late 1990s trying to get all parties to sit down together, cautioned against quick fixes or a U.N. peacekeeping role.
''Afghanistan is a very difficult country; it is a very proud people and they don't like to be ordered around by foreigners,'' he said. ''They don't like to see foreigners, especially in military uniform.'' Such observations cannot be reassuring to the Bush administration as it prepares the ground phase of its operations.
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
.c The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - After weeks of negotiations, President Bush's plan to allow police to conduct secret searches of terrorism suspects' homes, tap all their cell and home phones and track their use of the Internet appeared headed for final congressional approval.
The House planned a final vote Wednesday morning, with the Senate expected to follow in the afternoon or on Thursday. The plan was to get it to Bush for a possible Friday signing at the White House.
``This is going to pass by an overwhelming margin,'' said Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio. ``I think we all understand that, because the members recognize that the committees have done their work, have made the compromises and have made the necessary changes to get a piece of legislation that can pass.''
Lawmakers reached a compromise last week between the House and Senate versions of Bush's plan, which would expand the FBI's wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority, impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists and increase punishments of terrorists.
To come to that agreement on their first business day after a four-day recess forced by the anthrax scare, House leaders dumped a GOP-Democrat compromise passed unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee in favor of the modified Senate version being considered.
``This legislation is not perfect, and the process is not one that all will embrace,'' House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said Tuesday. ``However, these are difficult times. ... This legislation is desperately needed.''
Some Democrats warned the bill gives law enforcers too much power. ``This is one of the most important measures that we will determine ... because it is anti-terrorist legislation that expands the law in many directions,'' said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., added: ``It's not just limited to terrorism. Had it been limited to terrorism, this bill could have passed three or four weeks ago without much discussion.''
There still may be a snag on the Senate side. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has threatened to block final approval in the Senate because of a compromise Senate negotiators made to get House approval.
The original Senate bill tinkered with the so-called McDade amendment, which prevents federal prosecutors from using investigative techniques such as wiretaps or undercover stings that are disallowed under ethics rules enforced by state and local bar associations but not barred by federal law.
The Senate fix would loosen the McDade amendment, named for Joe McDade, a former congressman from Pennsylvania whose reputation was clouded by an eight-year racketeering case before he won acquittal in 1996.
Wyden wants the fix put back into the anti-terrorism bill and has threatened to delay final approval. He and his fellow Oregon senator, Republican Gordon Smith, say implementing such a restrictive rule in their state had disastrous results for law enforcement.
By Senate custom, any senator can block a bill, at least temporarily. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., could override the block.
The Senate's McDade compromise wasn't the only one made during negotiations for the anti-terrorism bill.
The Justice Department gave up on its demands that the new laws immediately become permanent, a major loss for the Bush administration. The administration ultimately decided that having the wiretapping and electronic surveillance portion of the terrorism legislation expire at the end of 2005 was better than having no new laws at all.
The Republican-controlled House gave up its insistence that money-laundering legislation be passed separately and not with the anti-terrorism legislation. But Senate leaders repeatedly threatened to scuttle the bill if the money-laundering provisions were taken out, and House leaders relented.
They also dumped a provision, sought by some House members, that would have prohibited the use of credit cards or checks for illegal Internet gambling. Law enforcement authorities have identified Internet gambling as a means for money laundering.
In other action, the House:
Required registration of all researchers using biological agents or toxins and made unregistered possession a felony, regardless of intent. It would also become a federal crime to use biological agents in a way that shows reckless disregard for public safety.
Passed legislation authorizing the Treasury Department to issue the first war bonds since World War II.
Passed legislation to make it easier for students called up to active duty in the military to pay off their college loans.