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Chance: Targeting front lines may be new tactic

NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- U.S.-led airstrikes are pounding Taliban frontline positions in northern Afghanistan, which CNN Correspondent Matthew Chance says may signal a shift in air campaign strategy.

It's happening north of Kabul, where CNN 's Chance filed this report.

CHANCE: There have been new developments, it seems, in the U.S.-led air war against Afghanistan. I'm on the Bagram Air Force Base, once a key installation of the Soviet Union in its occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Just to give you an idea of the frontline nature of the position that we're in right now -- those buildings in the distance just at the foot of the mountains, that's the Taliban front line, about a mile or so from where we're standing right now.

The mountains are obviously firmly in the control of the Taliban. They're about 25 kilometers from the city, and are basically the only defenses that stand between the forces of the Northern Alliance, the opposition forces with whom I'm based right now, and the ultimate prize, which is of course, Kabul -- seizing Kabul itself.

We witnessed what may be a new departure in the U.S.-led air war over Afghanistan. A fighter of the U.S.-led coalition streaked across the sky here and dropped its bombs -- two of its bombs -- on Taliban frontline positions on these mountains over here just north of Kabul. Local commanders say they've been frustrated over the recent weeks, that the U.S.-led strikes have focused too much on targets deep inside the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and not enough on these frontline positions.

But if these kind of bombing runs continue, that may mark a change in strategy from the United States, and essentially if it destroys the Taliban front lines here, it could open the way for a Northern Alliance advance on Kabul.

CNN: We know that the United States has been trying to restrain the Northern Alliance from making such a move. Is the Northern Alliance telling you now that they expect the U.S. to actually open the way for them to go into Kabul and that they actually will follow through and do it?

CHANCE: The Northern Alliance aren't saying one way or another what they're expecting. Certainly they're hoping for that. They've been in close coordination with the United States, they say, on a daily basis, ever since the start of this air campaign, maintaining their forces in their trenches. They're not advancing into the areas that may come under attack from the United States warplanes and the warplanes of its allies.

Clearly, though, what the Northern Alliance wants more than anything else is some kind of close air support, to destroy these positions here so that they can achieve their ultimate military objective, which is to take the Afghan capital Kabul. They haven't done it yet. They haven't moved out their positions and that's what they want.

CNN: From where you're standing, you should be able to see any strikes that are taking place on the Kabul region. What's it look like to you today? Is it more or less than it has been in recent days?

CHANCE: It's difficult to say because in this position, we don't often get the opportunity to come every day. But certainly we're not very far from Kabul. Intermittently we've been hearing U.S. warplanes or maybe British warplanes -- it's difficult to tell from the ground -- streaking across the sky here.

In fact, I think I can hear one in the distance right now, but they're flying so high, it's difficult for us to get pictures of them. But yes, this is the route which the warplanes take on their bombing runs into the northern part of Kabul, which as I say, is just across the mountain range back there.


• U.S. bombs Taliban front lines
October 17, 2001

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