U.S. planes strike Taliban front lines
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. attack planes struck the ruling Taliban's front lines in northern Afghanistan on Sunday in apparent coordination with the opposition Northern Alliance.
Two F/A-18s began strikes against Taliban forces near the former Soviet air base at Bagram, just north of Kabul, about 4:15 p.m. local time (7:45 a.m. EDT). Bagram is now under the control of the Northern Alliance, but the Taliban control the surrounding area.
The planes made a total of four passes, striking together and separately, before flying off after about 45 minutes, a CNN photographer at Bagram reported. Taliban troops responded with salvos of anti-aircraft fire.
U.S. forces began targeting Taliban forces in the area last week. Northern Alliance commanders had been complaining that the U.S.-led strikes have focused too much on targets deep inside the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and not enough on frontline positions.
The Northern Alliance troops on the ground seemed to be aware the attack was coming: Just before the planes arrived, Northern Alliance generals warned people at Bagram of the impending attack, the CNN photographer said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that the United States had given the Northern Alliance food, ammunition, supplies and even money. Northern Alliance officials said 20 U.S. troops were cooperating with their forces in what a U.S. official in Washington told CNN was a "liaison" mission with the opposition.
The Northern Alliance has been thwarted in its attempts to advance on Kabul, since the Taliban controls the mountain road between Bagram and the capital. If the attacks were to force the Taliban to evacuate those positions, the Northern Alliance could head for Kabul.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Northern Alliance was poised to "move aggressively" toward Kabul. But in Northern Alliance-held territory, troops have made no movement along their front lines north of the capital, aside from scattered skirmishes, since the U.S.-led airstrikes began nearly two weeks ago.
Their forces have advanced toward another strategically important city, Mazar-e Sharif, now held by the Taliban. But Taliban troops have pushed alliance troops back in recent days, and Rumsfeld said the Taliban are putting up stiff resistance.
But Powell said Sunday that the Northern Alliance, which is composed mostly of Afghanistan's ethnic minorities, should not play a dominant role in any post-Taliban government.
"There are others who wonder whether or not it would be the best thing for a group, however effective it might be, that really only represents only 15 percent or thereabouts of the overall population actually going into the capital," Powell said. "Will that just crystallize opposition elsewhere? Even the Northern Alliance recognizes the problem, and they have been rather candid in discussing it this with us."
Powell said the alliance, which is still recognized as Afghanistan's government by the United Nations, would be an "important part" of a new government. "But at about 15 percent of the population, I don't even think they think that they are in a position at this time to be a dominant figure."
Powell said a new government could include lower-level Taliban officials who don't agree with their leadership, but, "There is no place for any element of current Taliban leadership in a new Afghanistan." But a spokesman for the Northern Alliance in Washington soundly rejected the suggestion that any so-called "moderate" Taliban might play a role in a new Afghan government.
"We certainly think that inclusion of the Taliban moderates would be sort of like inclusion of moderate Nazis in the post-Hitler regime after World War II," alliance spokesman Haron Amintold CBS's "Face The Nation."
"Moderate Taliban don't exist," Amin said. "They are intrinsically a very, very fanatic group."
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