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U.S. targets Taliban troops, barracks

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- With all known surface-to-air missile sites destroyed in Afghanistan, U.S. forces focused their bombardment on Taliban troop garrisons and barracks across Afghanistan late Wednesday and early Thursday.

President Bush, speaking in Washington to Asian editors ahead of his trip to China, said he will not waver from the war on terrorism, even if public support begins to wane after a while.

"You mark my words, people are going to tire of the war on terrorism. And, by the way, it may take more than two years," Bush said, according to a transcript released by the White House. "Some people are going to start to say: 'We're tired, but President Bush keeps going on.' And when that happens, I want you to know, I will be doing it because I think it is the right thing to do. That's what I'm supposed to do."

U.S. Navy planes, flying from carriers in the Indian Ocean, have begun patrolling specified "kill boxes" or what the Pentagon describes more precisely as "engagement zones," regions of Afghanistan that U.S. planners have determined to be hostile areas.

"We have attacked all of the fixed air defense sites that we have found to date," said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We are now looking at those other military instruments, if you will, those other military articles, to attack to help bring down the Taliban's power."

In an engagement zone, mission pilots do not have pre-planned targets to hit, but are given commands while in the air from forward air controllers about targets such as convoys of Taliban vehicles or other military equipment to hit.

Reporting from an old Soviet airbase in Bagram, Northern Afghanistan, CNN's Matthew Chance details the front-line fighting (October 17)

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"When they can be found and positively ID'd, they will be attacked," Stufflebeem said.

He said there is no "freewheeling" or "any self-determination" of targets being done by the strike pilots. If a pilot finds a potential target, he or she calls the "controller's attention to it for a positive ID, gets the authority to attack that target and then will," Stufflebeem said.

In this attack mode, he said, the United States is further utilizing more of the Special Forces AC-130s -- specially modified C-130s with a side-firing cannon that can wipe out troop concentrations. He would only say "less than five" of the AC-130s were being used.

The United States also broadcast radio messages into Afghanistan from U.S. Air Force aircraft.

"Attention Taliban, you are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death. The Armed Forces of the United States are here to seek justice for our dead," one translated message said, according to a Pentagon transcript. "Our helicopters will rain fire down upon your camps before you detect them on your radar. Our bombs are so accurate we can drop them right through your windows."

One top Defense official also confirmed to CNN that the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk is now fully loaded with helicopters and Special Operations forces for combat use -- and in case commando raids are ordered. The carrier picked up Special Operations forces and helicopters just a few days ago, the source said.

In addition, CNN has learned that additional F-15s were ordered deployed to the Gulf to beef up bases in the region. And sources told CNN some F-15Es, flying from Kuwait, took part in Wednesday's attacks on Afghanistan.

Pentagon sources said the newly arrived carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is already being utilized in Operation Enduring Freedom, in addition to planes from the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Carl Vinson.

Stufflebeem said Taliban storage and supply facilities near Kabul have been struck, and that several Taliban vehicles and barracks belonging to the Taliban 2nd Corps were destroyed.

Loud explosions were heard in Kandahar late Wednesday and early Thursday, Youssef Al-Shouli, a reporter for the Arabic news network Al Jazeera, told CNN. Al-Shouli, who just arrived in the city late Wednesday, said he knew of three government buildings, including the road maintenance department building, that were hit.

Sources in Kandahar reported some of the strikes hit populated areas. The sources said they went to a house where they saw the remains of civilians, including women and children, apparently killed in the attacks. Al-Shouli said he had seen one civilian area that was hit, but he didn't know details about it.

The city of Jalalabad, another major focus of the air campaign, also came under attack Wednesday, with the city's television tower among the targets hit, sources said.

Separately, Taliban sources said a bus carrying civilians near the city of Arghandab, outside of Kandahar, was hit in the airstrikes, killing 18 people. Taliban officials allowed a CNN crew to go to the site, but the crew could not independently confirm the death toll nor whether the bus was carrying civilians.

The CNN crew was not allowed to go to any military sites targeted in the air campaign.

U.S. fighter jets were seen streaking across the sky north of Kabul on Wednesday, dropping at least two bombs on Taliban positions close to the front lines.

CNN Correspondent Matthew Chance reported seeing the attack from his position at Bagram Air Base, a former Soviet air base in northern Afghanistan that is under the control of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance has been asking the United States to shift its focus away from infrastructure targets in urban areas, and instead strike Taliban front-line positions, which are about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north of Kabul.

The Northern Alliance controls between 5 and 10 percent of Afghanistan, and has been fighting the ruling Taliban regime since the mid-1990s. The alliance is composed mainly of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks opposed to the Pashtun-dominated Taliban. Many of the alliance fighters are former mujahedeen who fought against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The most concentrated fighting is taking place near the strategic northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. Should the city fall to the Northern Alliance, Taliban supply routes would be cut, and other areas -- including Kabul -- could be made vulnerable to the opposition forces.

British Ministry of Defense officials said Wednesday there has indeed been a shift in bombing strategy, away from fixed targets and toward mobile troop positions.

The World Food Programme said Wednesday the Taliban seized two large food warehouses, which contain more than half of the agency's supply of wheat destined for relief efforts. Catherine Bertini, executive director of the WFP, said soldiers arrived at the sites in Kabul and Kandahar on Tuesday and told staffers there to leave.

At the Pentagon briefing, Stufflebeem was asked if the airstrikes were hindering humanitarian aid efforts on the ground.

"I think it's the Taliban who is preventing that more than it is our strikes," he said.

Taliban official says leadership is united

In Kandahar, Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told CNN there is no split in the Taliban leadership, following recent reports that moderates in the Taliban government -- led by Muttawakil -- had offered to negotiate the surrender of Osama bin Laden if the United States would halt its bombing campaign.

Muttawakil said reports of a split were false. He said that he was not the equal of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, and would never presume to challenge him, adding the rumors were being spread by the Taliban's enemies.

Meanwhile, sources at the British Defense Ministry said that while the strike of an International Committee of the Red Cross warehouse in Kabul was "regrettable," they said the facility housed Taliban guards and military equipment.

Also, the ministry questioned the reports that there were symbols on top of the building that identified it as a Red Cross compound.

A Pentagon statement said 1,000-pound precision-guided bombs "inadvertently struck one or more warehouses used by the International Committee of the Red Cross" in Kabul on Tuesday. The statement said the bombs came from a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet.

"Although details are still being investigated, the ICRC warehouses were among a series of warehouses targeted by U.S. forces because the Taliban used them for storage of military equipment. Military vehicles had been seen in the vicinity of these warehouses. U.S. forces did not know that ICRC was using one or more of the warehouses," the Pentagon said.

An ICRC spokesman said the agency "would have known" if military assets had been moved to a warehouse in Kabul that had been struck by U.S. bombs.

-- CNN's Matthew Chance, John Vause and Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this report.


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