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Pentagon denies Taliban accusations

Taliban tank
Video released by the Defense Department shows a strike against a Taliban tank in western Afghanistan.  


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon's top brass Monday denied a series of accusations from Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, saying U.S. forces have not lost a single helicopter or soldier to enemy fire and that bombing raids aren't targeting civilians.

"The last thing we want to do is hit civilian targets," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, when quizzed by reporters on new Taliban allegations of U.S. "genocide."

Taliban representatives in Pakistan accused the United States on Monday of engaging in a military campaign against the Afghanistan people that included strikes on residential areas and a hospital in the western city of Herat.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said 1,000 Afghans have been killed in the U.S.-led airstrikes since they commenced more than two weeks ago.

"It is now clear that America plans on intentionally targeting the Afghan people," Zaeef said. "The goal is to punish the Afghan nation for having chosen an Islamic system. America is using against the Afghan people sophisticated and destructive weapons that have never been used before in any war."

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U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also denied that U.S. aircraft were targeting civilian sites. Rumsfeld, appearing at the Pentagon's daily briefing with Myers, said that Western media reports of bomb and missile strikes on Kabul, the Afghan capital, and Kandahar, the center of Taliban activity, were not accurate.

"I've seen media reports ... and 99 percent of the time reports of bombing in Kabul and Kandahar are not true," Rumsfeld said. "Most of the effort is outside those cities, and when it is, it is on a military target that is carefully selected."

Earlier Monday in Kandahar, Taliban officials showed CNN and other news organizations parts from what they said was a downed U.S. helicopter.

On Saturday, the Taliban also claimed to have downed a helicopter they believed U.S. troops had used in commando raids overnight Friday into Saturday. Taliban officials said that after they shot the helicopter over Kandahar, it flew off, crashing over the border with Pakistan.

The Pentagon vehemently denied losing any aircraft.

"The Taliban say they have shot down at least two helicopters, which is false," Rumsfeld declared. "They have not. They say that have captured U.S. soldiers. They have not."

Zaeef did not present any evidence to back the newest claims when he spoke Monday in Islamabad, Pakistan, but he repeated Taliban assertions that a craft had been downed.

The parts provided for TV crews were primarily landing gear, with markings in English. Boeing and Loud Engineering could be read on one piece of the gear. Asked to make a ruling on what kind of equipment from which the gear could come, Myers and Rumsfeld said that they did not know.

U.S. weaponry has been used in various conflicts in Afghanistan for decades, and U.S. military hardware has long been available throughout the region.

The CNN crew in Kandahar was not taken to the alleged crash site. When asked what happened to the remains of those aboard the craft, Zaeef replied he didn't know but said the soldiers were dead.

Taliban officials said the parts came from an area near one of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's compounds, but they would not take reporters to the site because, they said, the area had landmines. Officials also said they were afraid people standing in the open would be a target for more airstrikes.

Taliban official says hospital struck

In airstrikes Monday, Zaeef said, U.S. planes destroyed a hospital in Herat, killing more than 100 people -- including patients, doctors, and nurses.

Eighteen others were killed, he said, when U.S. planes struck two clinics and shops in other parts of the country "located far from military places." He said the killing of civilians was a terrorist act on par with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

"[The] Bush administration is annoying the soul of those killed in New York by killing innocent men, women and children in Afghanistan," he said. "In attacking our country on mere suspicions, CIA and FBI have escaped their failure to find the real culprit by putting the blame squarely on Afghanistan without any evidence."

The Pentagon said it had no information on either allegation, but Rumsfeld said he had his doubts.

"We have no evidence at all that the allegation you cited is correct," Rumsfeld told a reporter. "I am sure it is not."

Zaeef urged representatives of other countries to relay the "brutal" and "cruel" actions of the United States and Britain, which also has taken part in the attacks.

"We are telling the Bush administration that you will never be able to break the will and determination of the Afghans," Zaeef said. "This is a nation that loves independence and faith more than its life."

The latest numbers

The weekend's air activity broke down in the following manner, according to Myers:

Saturday:

* Targets: Airfields, air defenses, command and control facilities, and terrorist forces and camps.

* Equipment: Ninety aircraft, with most tactical jets launched from carriers; the rest were land-based bombers.

* Cargo aircraft dropped 52,000 food rations.

Sunday:

* Targets: Airfields, command and control facilities, and Taliban forces deployed in a garrison.

* Equipment: Seventy-five aircraft, with most tactical jets launched from carriers; the rest were land-based bombers.

* More rations and leaflets were dropped.



 
 
 
 



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