'Substantial' number of Taliban troops killed
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military says it believes a "substantial" number of Afghanistan's Taliban troops have been killed in air raids targeting their front lines.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem told a regular briefing he could not quantify the losses, but said it has been a number of days since Taliban forces have responded with fire.
"That would be because they're either hunkered down and aren't coming out, or they're not able to fire," Stufflebeem told reporters.
After almost a week of very heavy bombing along Taliban front lines, Stufflebeem says the al Qaeda terrorist network's "known infrastructure," has been virtually destroyed, adding that al Qaeda is "not free to operate in Afghanistan at this point."
As the raids enter their fifth week, the United States says it is focusing its campaign on supporting opposition group forces, such as the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. It is also preparing the battlefield for future offensive actions by those forces.
United States warplanes bombed Taliban front line positions north of Kabul on Monday and hit areas near the southern city of Kandahar.
The Northern Alliance has said it is getting ready to launch a "multipronged attack" against Taliban positions in northern Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Taliban members have begun leaving their stronghold of Kandahar and are now staying in groups of two to five people because they fear larger concentrations will be hit and no longer feel safe, CNN has learned.
The more upbeat American comments came amid reports the U.S. military reportedly bombed front lines with 15,000-pound bombs called BLU-82 "daisy cutters," believed to be the world's largest conventional bombs, according to The Associated Press.
The bomb creates a mist of ammonium nitrate and aluminum, which ignites in an explosion that incinerates everything within up to 600 yards, according to the news service.
For their part, the Taliban say 10 civilians were killed and 15 were injured in a raid on the village of Aq-Kupruk, south of Mazar-e Sharif, a claim that has not been independently verified.
Commanders with the opposition Northern Alliance had said over the weekend that they captured large portions of Aq-Kupruk and that hundreds of Taliban fighters had either defected or been captured.
After meeting with officials in India on Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied suggestions that the military campaign in Afghanistan will drag on for years, saying strikes were getting more effective.
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