U.S. carpet-bombs Taliban lines
NEAR BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Heavy bombers and Navy jets pounded battle lines Wednesday between Taliban and opposition Northern Alliance troops in the U.S.-led effort to decimate and demoralize the dug-in Taliban forces.
In addition to precision strikes by more than 50 jets, about a half-dozen Air Force B-1s and B-52s dropped hundreds of unguided bombs, an operation also known as carpet-bombing.
"Oftentimes, if a target presents itself, either in an engagement zone or when directed, it's possible to release an entire load of bombs at once," Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, Pentagon spokesman in Washington, told reporters.
In the north, smoke roiled up for miles along a mountain ridge where Taliban troops have been dug in.
The Pentagon's target map shows that U.S. bombing has almost completely shifted to areas around two Taliban strongholds: the strategic northern crossroads of Mazar-e Sharif and the Afghan capital, Kabul, which the United States would like to see fall soon to the Northern Alliance.
The U.S. military denied that Wednesday's strikes -- the most dramatic witnessed in days -- indicated a major shift in the allied military campaign.
Also Wednesday, Pentagon sources said the United States is sending two high-tech warplanes to Afghanistan to increase the effectiveness of the bombing campaign.
One is the Global Hawk, a high-flying experimental, unmanned spy plane, and the other is the J-STARS, a radar plane with a proven record from the Gulf War of spotting targets on the ground.
In southern Afghanistan, CNN Correspondent Nic Robertson said life seemed to be returning to normal in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Stores were open, and there were people and traffic in the streets.
The Taliban took him and about two dozen other reporters on a tour of destroyed or damaged sites in and around the city. Among them were three downtown ministry buildings, including one housing the offices of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue.
Across the street, Robertson visited what used to be a tailor shop. People nearby said friends and relatives had died in the bombing there. En route to surrounding villages, Robertson said he saw anti-aircraft guns, armored personnel carriers and other equipment hidden in the hills.
One military commander told Robertson only 15 soliders have died in the four provinces he leads, and morale remains good.
"We are not demoralized. In fact, the morale has been very strong. And after the American airstrikes, we have become much more united and stronger. We believe in Jihad and we want to become martyrs and we will fight until the last man."
Stufflebeem did not go into specifics about the strikes along the ridge in the north just south of territory held by the Northern Alliance, saying only that airpower is used against known, or "good," targets.
He said command-and-control elements, air defenses and military forces of the Taliban have been consistent targets since the U.S.-led military campaign began.
In the past week, Northern Alliance commanders complained that the U.S. airstrikes were not intense enough against Taliban troop positions. The strikes against Taliban battle lines appeared to pick up after that criticism.
Alliance: Don't stop war for Ramadan
Northern Alliance commanders also want the U.S.-led strikes to continue through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is to begin around November 17.
"The Taliban have always violated Ramadan," Northern Alliance spokesman Haron Amin said Wednesday in Washington, where he spoke to the National Press Club. "This is a month for fasting, not a month where you stop combating terrorism. We will continue to fight the Taliban on the ground and hope the international community realizes that any pause in fighting the Taliban will allow them to mobilize more forces, to gain strength here and there.
"We certainly plan to engage with them during the month of Ramadan."
Some Arab and Muslim leaders have said the strikes should be halted during the holy period, but U.S. officials have repeated that while sensitive to those concerns, they do not plan to suspend or limit fighting.
Pentagon says Taliban communications cut
Stufflebeem said U.S. forces have severely disrupted the Taliban's lines of communications to the point that military leaders in Afghanistan probably don't even know how many troops they have lost.
The break in communications also has degraded the Taliban's ability to send orders to the field and coordinate reinforcements and resupplies, he said.
"We believe that puts a terrific amount of stress on their military capability as their regional commanders, who have been used to a lot of top-down control, may not be getting that now," he said.
Stufflebeem said it is hard for either side to gauge the number of remaining Taliban troops because the lines of communication have been cut.
"Mullah Omar is still their leader, their commander, and they're still attempting to be able to communicate with Mullah Omar," Stufflebeem said. "They are also trying to be resupplied and reinforced, and they're having difficulties in all of that."
Strikes on Wednesday hit 20 planned target areas, Stufflebeem said, using about 70 strike aircraft. Other aircraft were flying intelligence or military support missions, he said.
Both long-range heavy bombers and tactical jets are being used against large target areas such as training camps, truck columns or large troop movements, he said.
Stufflebeem showed video, shot in the past couple of weeks, of allied planes striking Tarnaq Farms near Kandahar, which Stufflebeem described as one of the major al Qaeda terrorist training camps funded by Osama bin Laden. Before-and-after glimpses showed much of the facility was destroyed.
The United States began the campaign against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban when it refused to turn over bin Laden, whom Washington suspects of masterminding the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.
Stufflebeem said reports of bin Laden's whereabouts have come consistently from Kabul and Kandahar. Those cities have been regular targets of U.S. forces.
Northern Alliance soldiers said that in the past two days, U.S. bombs have targeted camps in the hills where soldiers loyal to a leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and a confidante of bin Laden have been hiding. On Tuesday, they said a bomb landed near an al Qaeda camp.
But some commanders say they are unaware of U.S. forces in the region trying to better coordinate with the Northern Alliance forces.
"If any government wants to be successful here, they should support us, because we are the main political force here," Gen. Atiqullah Baryalai, the Alliance's vice defense minister, told CNN's Satinder Bindra. "Just bombardment alone cannot guarantee advancement of our troops. It is not a guarantee for victory."
The Northern Alliance says some Taliban commanders might be enticed with money to defect. They say another 300 Taliban troops have just defected, but that could not be independently confirmed.
Amid the fighting, humanitarian efforts continue. The United States achieved a "major milestone" Wednesday, with two cargo planes dropping more than 34,000 humanitarian daily rations, or meal packets. That brings the total number of packets dropped to 1 million since the operation began, Stufflebeem said.
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