U.S. hits Taliban near Tajikistan border
From Satinder Bindra
NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- U.S. planes targeted Taliban forces near the Tajikistan-Afghan border Monday for the first time in support of troops of the opposition Northern Alliance.
"The U.S. planes dropped 10 bombs, and all 10 bombs exploded," said Atiqullah Baryalai, the alliance's vice defense minister.
Northern Alliance commanders said the bombs fell close to a location along the Kokcha River in northeastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban have a military base. Encouraged by the strikes, the opposition forces kept up a steady barrage of tank and mortar fire.
Taliban fighters along the front didn't respond immediately, but anti-Taliban commanders warned they are still around and will chose their moment to fight back.
Opposition leaders told CNN that radio intercepts and troop movements suggest the Taliban have positioned Arab, Chechen and Pakistani troops -- reputed to be their toughest fighters -- along the front.
"The Taliban are not birds that will fly away with one bomb. They have plenty of military strongholds, and they will not leave them," said Ustad Qadir, an alliance commander.
The Northern Alliance has been battling the Taliban for seven years and controls less than 10 percent of the country. Despite the help of a month of bombing from the world's mightiest power, the alliance appears no closer to victory.
At a Pentagon briefing Monday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recent strikes have concentrated on Taliban forces in north Afghanistan and that Northern Alliance forces are helping direct U.S. strikes. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said American forces are dropping ammunition to Northern Alliance troops.
"We are anxious to have all the forces on the ground move forward and take whatever they can take away from the Taliban and al Qaeda," Rumsfeld said. "Our hope is that they'll be successful."
But a week of strikes against Taliban positions have not yet visibly affected the military situation on the ground. Northern Alliance commanders said they need food, money and ammunition, all of which are in short supply here.
Responding to media reports that the United States wants to set up a base in northern Afghanistan for 600 troops, anti-Taliban forces said they will consider any such requests.
In addition, the newly appointed U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhtar Brahimi, is in the region to work with various Afghan opposition groups to settle their differences and come up with a formula for a new government.
Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, met with senior Pakistani officials Monday. He signaled his optimism that countries supporting the Taliban's removal would be able to agree on who will lead a post-Taliban government. He said U.N. officials also would consider an invitation by the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
But opposition leaders warn that the campaign to oust the Taliban will be a test of patience.
"The main point is that if you have to struggle against your enemy, you need patience," the Northern Alliance's Baryalai said. "If you have patience, you will succeed."
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