New strikes hit Taliban front lines
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. attack planes launched new strikes Monday on the ruling Taliban's front lines in northern Afghanistan in a new sign of coordination with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban's armed opposition.
Jets were seen dropping bombs along the front lines north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, where Taliban troops have been entrenched in a long-standing stalemate against Northern Alliance fighters. Pairs of jets made at least three passes over the area.
The strikes were the second in two days to hit the front lines, softening Taliban positions and providing hope to Northern Alliance troops that they might finally advance toward the capital. Movement along the front line north of Kabul has been stalled since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Northern Alliance has been thwarted in its attempts to advance on Kabul as the Taliban controls the mountain road between the former Soviet air base at Bagram and the capital. If the U.S. attacks were to force the Taliban to leave those positions, the Northern Alliance could head for Kabul.
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. Sunday's strikes hit near the Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul. The Northern Alliance controls the base, but the Taliban hold the surrounding area.
Underscoring possible cooperation between U.S. forces and the Northern Alliance, alliance commanders warned people at Bagram of the impending attack and some gathered in advance to watch the air raid.
Northern Alliance forces have advanced toward another strategically important city, Mazar-e Sharif, which the Taliban hold. But Taliban troops have pushed alliance forces back in recent days.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday the opposition forces were 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.
But Powell said that the Northern Alliance, which is made up 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 this with us."
Powell said the alliance, which the United Nations recognizes as Afghanistan's government, would be an "important part" of a new regime. "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 added that "there is no place for any element of current Taliban leadership in a new Afghanistan."
A Northern Alliance spokesman 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 Amin said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"Moderate Taliban don't exist," Amin said. "They are intrinsically a very, very fanatic group."
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