Key Afghan areas again hit from the air
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A fourth consecutive day of airstrikes brought ferocious ordnance detonations Wednesday in and around the key Afghan cities of Kabul, the capital, and Kandahar, the operational center of the ruling fundamentalist Taliban.
As darkness fell over Afghanistan on Wednesday night, anti-aircraft fire could be seen and heard in the skies over Kabul, and a reporter stationed in the city by the Arab television news network al-Jazeera said he heard explosions in the vicinity of the city's airport.
The airport terminal at Kandahar, meanwhile, reportedly was destroyed during a relentless bombardment.
At least 30 loud explosions rocked Kandahar over a two-hour period, with military fuel depots, barracks and heavy armor as targets, a CNN source said. Civilians in cars and on foot took to the streets in panic, the source added.
The Taliban did not return anti-aircraft fire. One of the local commanders ordered his men not to fire, saying it would be "useless," the source reported.
The Bush administration is keeping any information about its plans for the continuation of the military operation against the Taliban and the al Qaeda terror network under tight wraps. The United States continues to fly raids over several pivotal Afghan areas seemingly at will, and while administration officials indicate the airstrikes may soon have to give way to something else, they aren't saying what that something will be.
The Pentagon opted not to hold an official daily briefing Wednesday.
President Bush informed members of Congress by letter on Tuesday of his intention to deploy ground troops for combat operations, but the administration hasn't said anything about when or where that might happen.
Earlier in Washington, officials told CNN there would probably be a role for ground forces in Afghanistan soon, with an emphasis on special operations forces. One senior official said ground forces would have a "significant role at times, but limited in number."
Speaking in Islamabad on Wednesday, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, disputed claims by U.S. officials that they have substantially destroyed Taliban air defenses and are in control of the skies over Afghanistan
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, proclaimed that the United States had achieved "air supremacy" over Afghanistan just three days into the military campaign, when he spoke to reporters in the Pentagon's last official news briefing on Tuesday. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the U.S. was now able to launch raids "around the clock," as evidenced by the operations first daylight sorties Tuesday.
Salam Zaeef said Wednesday that the Taliban are still able to defend Afghanistan.
"American planes are flying very high and ... they are not in the range of the defense system that we have," the envoy said. "As you know, we do not have the sophisticated and modern defense system. ... That they have destroyed our defense capability is not true."
He also denied claims that Afghan opposition groups fighting the Taliban, specifically the Northern Alliance, had made advances.
"That the opposition forces have made advancement is a mere lie. The opposition have no support among the people," Zaeef said. "If the opposition had made ... any advancement towards us ... it would have been reported in the media."
Meanwhile, in Oman, British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived to review some 23,000 of his troops conducting a military exercise in the oil-rich state, strategically situated at the mouths of the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.
Blair also briefed Omani leader, Sultan Qaboos, on plans for the U.S.-led battle against international terrorism. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld met with Qaboos last week during his pre-strike tour of the Middle East and Central Asia.
The Pentagon did, on Wednesday afternoon, release a statement detailing its Tuesday operations, which involved attacks staged on six military targets by "five to eight land-based bombers and eight to 10 naval strike aircraft."
The targets included airfields and air defense sites, and "infrastructure of the al Qaeda terrorist organization," the Defense Department said. In addition, two C-17 cargo jets dropped another 35,000 food packets intended for Afghan refugees.
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