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Airstrikes continue; Taliban remain defiant



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Intense airstrikes resumed Saturday in Afghanistan, with U.S.-led bombing raids hitting the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar and the capital city of Kabul, where one bomb missed its target and hit a residential neighborhood.

A senior Pentagon official told CNN that a U.S. Navy jet was trying to hit a military helicopter at the Kabul airport at about 6:30 p.m. EDT Friday, but the precision-guided bomb missed its mark by about a mile, falling in a residential area.

The Pentagon said there could be as many as four civilians dead and eight injured because of the errant bomb, and military officials were investigating to determine the cause of the accident.

"We regret the loss of any civilian life," the Pentagon said in a statement. "U.S. forces are intentionally striking only military and terrorist targets. They take great care in their targeting process to avoid civilian casualties."

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The incident marked the second report during the week-old conflict that a bomb had gone astray. In the first case, a Tomahawk cruise missile aimed at a communications tower went astray at about the same time that four United Nations workers were killed in a compound near the tower. Officials said the missile may have caused their deaths.

At the end of the first week in what could be a long war against terrorism, U.S. officials have said the airstrikes have been effective overall.

Bush praises military efforts

In his Saturday radio address, President Bush praised the efforts of the U.S. military, noting the skill and courage of U.S. servicemen and women, and saying they had achieved "the goals of the first phase of our campaign."

"We have disrupted the terrorist network inside Afghanistan. We have weakened the Taliban's military. And we have crippled the Taliban's air defenses," the president said.

"American forces dominate the skies over Afghanistan, and we will use that dominance to make sure terrorists can no longer freely use Afghanistan as a base of operations," Bush said.

Taliban leader refuses Bush demands

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, issued a defiant statement Saturday, urging the world's Muslim community to be "with Islam, not with Bush. With truth, not lies."

"You, the Muslims of the world, who are watching with your own eyes live pictures of atrocities on your Muslim brothers, and you don't make a move?" Omar said. "Are some of you on the side of the infidels, or are you with us?"

Omar said the Taliban will not "hand anyone over" to the United States, referring to Bush's demand that they turn in Osama bin Laden and his associates.

"We have not agreed with America to hand over anyone," Omar said in a statement issued in Kandahar and distributed by the Afghan Islamic Press agency.

Bush said Thursday night he might halt the campaign if the Taliban were to surrender bin Laden and his associates.

On Saturday, Bush noted that in last week's radio address -- delivered just a day before the airstrikes started -- he warned the Taliban that time was running out for them to turn over the terrorists.

"They did not listen," he said. "And they are paying a price."

Taliban military headquarters hit

U.S. domination of Afghan airspace seemed evident again Saturday. Witnesses in Kandahar reported two large explosions near Dorahi Junction, a connecting point for major roads going toward Kabul, the city airport and the Pakistani border town of Chaman.

A Taliban military headquarters also was hit, according to sources, but there was no report of casualties. Witnesses said they saw aircraft flying high in the hazy skies over Kandahar, but that they heard no anti-aircraft fire.

A reporter in Kabul for the Arabic-language TV network al Jazeera said the bombings were not as intense in the capital as in previous nights. The reporter also said the front line between Taliban and opposition Northern Alliance forces was quiet on Saturday morning.

The Taliban reported they had recaptured the central city of Chaghcharan, which the Northern Alliance said its forces had taken Thursday. There were conflicting reports, however, about which side controlled the northern provinces of Balkh and Samangan. The Northern Alliance said it made advances there, but the Taliban denied those claims.

The Taliban said more than 300 civilians have been killed since the U.S.-led airstrikes began Sunday. CNN has not been able to confirm that number. The number of military casualties was not known.

Concern for humanitarian needs

There was growing concern Saturday about meeting the humanitarian needs of the population as the onset of the cold Afghan winter looms. Aid agencies said they need to double the amount of aid to meet basic needs.

On Friday night, four C-17 cargo planes dropped 70,000 yellow meal packets over the country, more than double the amount dropped in previous missions, said Randy Mitchell, a spokesman with the U.S. Air Force in Europe. Each packet offers a day's ration.

The Saturday airstrikes marked the resumption of U.S.-led bombing raids after a quiet Friday. Pentagon officials said they did not conduct any preplanned military strikes Friday, the Muslim day of prayer.

During the first week of strikes, U.S. operations have been aimed at the ruling Taliban's defensive infrastructure, units on the ground and underground bunkers used by the Taliban and al Qaeda.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Taliban and al Qaeda communications and air defense capabilities have been disrupted, "and we have worked over a number if not all of their terrorist training camps."

"We know that we have found some concentration of Taliban and al Qaeda forces, and we know that they are moving -- that their life is more difficult, and the places where they have stayed, some of them have disappeared," Rumsfeld said.



 
 
 
 



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