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Taliban, foes fight in northern city

By Associated Press

Thursday October 18, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S. jets intensified attacks yesterday on Kabul and

the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, striking an oil depot in the capital and sending a huge plume of smoke into the cloudless sky.

Taliban fighters and opposition forces were reportedly locked in a seesaw battle for the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Meanwhile, international humanitarian organizations appealed for a pause in the bombing campaign, now in its 11th day, so they could rush in food for millions of Afghans before the harsh winter sets in next month.

Throughout the day, warplanes pounded targets in northern Kabul, including a fuel depot near the airport. A huge plume of black smoke rose in the clear sky as the thud of detonations rattled the city.

Attacks continued in the early hours yesterday, with strong detonations shaking the city before dawn. One blast appeared to have been in the area of the presidential palace, but it was impossible to determine the precise location because of the nighttime curfew.

U.S. military officials, meanwhile, said special operations troops capable of clandestine warfare are poised aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean, ready to launch search-and-destroy missions.

One of Tuesday's bombs crashed through the roof of a boys' school but did not explode, according to a U.N. spokesman in Islamabad, Pakistan, HassanFairdous.

There were no injuries, and demolition teams from a U.N.-affiliated mine-clearing team rushed to the school to defuse the bomb, Fairdous said.

In Kandahar, U.S. jets struck military targets throughout the city, Taliban officials reported. Residents said by telephone that Taliban fighters in the city were handing out weapons to civilians.

The residents said about 150 men armed with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles were guarding the Kandahar compound of the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, which has been attacked repeatedly during the air campaign.

Taliban officials claimed 47 civilians were killed in the Kandahar area in the past two days. They included seven civilians who died when U.S. jets attacked two trucks they were using to flee the city, the Taliban said.

The reports could not be independently verified.

The U.S.-led airstrikes began Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to surrender Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

With the U.S. attacks intensifying, Omar, the Taliban leader, radioed his field commanders Wednesday to assure them that God was on their side, according to the Afghan Islamic Press in Pakistan.

"God will defeat the great infidels," Omar reportedly told his followers.

The Taliban are battling a coalition of Afghan opposition forces who were themselves driven from power by the Islamic militia in 1996. In Washington, Stufflebeem said the two sides were fighting for control of Mazar-e-Sharif, a northern city held by the Taliban.

Anti-Taliban fighters shelled the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif on yesterday and were three miles from the strategic city, said Abdul Vadud, the northern alliance's military attache in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Control of Mazar-e-Sharif would enable the opposition to consolidate its supply lines along the borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, from which they obtain weapons.

With no sign of the fighting abating, aid organizations expressed growing concern for the fate of an estimated 2 million Afghans who may not survive the winter without food aid.

"It is evident now that we cannot, in reasonable safety, get food to hungry Afghan people," said Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam International, in Islamabad. "Time's almost out."

The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that a U.S. Navy pilot had bombed International Red Cross warehouses in Kabul, suspecting the depots were storing Taliban supplies.


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