Northern Alliance makes gains around Kandahar
(CNN) -- Northern Alliance forces have gained ground in northern Afghanistan with the aid of U.S. Special Forces who are coordinating air attacks against Taliban front-line troops, Pentagon and Afghan opposition officials said Wednesday.
Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said some opposition soldiers have been very aggressive, even attacking Taliban tanks in on horseback in cavalry charges.
The greatest progress reportedly has been around the crucial crossroads city of Mazar-e Sharif, a city that serves as a resupply post to Taliban elsewhere in the country.
"Once Mazar-e Sharif falls, it's going to trigger collapse of additional cities and towns across northern Afghanistan, and that is going to tremendously affect Taliban capability and decimate their strength and military power," said Haron Amin, a representative for the Northern Alliance in the United States.
He told CNN that the past week of U.S.-led airstrikes has been the most effective in striking at Taliban troops and tanks, paving the way for Northern Alliance troops to "move on the ground."
In Washington, Pace confirmed the gains but refused to characterize the progress.
"We have been able to concentrate a great deal more of our aviation in support of the opposition forces," Pace said.
In the past several days, he said, the United States has increased the number of Special Forces teams it has working inside the country with opposition forces.
"We are on the ground with them. We are providing airstrikes against targets that our U.S. service members on the ground with the opposition forces are able to identify as proper targets, and we are striking those," Pace said.
He said some U.S. personnel inside Afghanistan have reported opposition forces "riding horseback into combat against tanks and armored personnel carriers.
"These folks are aggressive. They're taking the war to their enemy and ours," he said.
Asked about how wise it is to attack a tank on horseback, Pace said, "From 8,000 miles away ... I would not judge a fellow soldier from a friendly nation and how they are employing their resources."
In the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, CNN's Kamal Hyder late Wednesday reported allied strikes targeting western parts of the city in 20-minute intervals.
"We did see some bright flashes of light in the sky and, of course, the explosions on the ground," he said. "Loud explosions shook most parts of Kandahar."
He heard what he believed were several AC-130 gunships in the air, distinguishable by their loud buzzing noise. "They were basically circling Kandahar quite low," Hyder said.
Earlier, a B-52 bomber streaked high above Kandahar, attracting anti-aircraft fire from Taliban positions. The attacks followed intense air activity over Kandahar Tuesday night.
One month after the U.S.-led military campaign began, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said the United States is on track to achieve its objectives: to make it difficult for the Taliban to harbor terrorists, to punish them for doing so and to alter the military balance in Afghanistan by destroying Taliban offensive systems and fostering relationships with opposition groups.
More than 2,000 sorties have been flown since the campaign began, Pace said. About 80 strike missions were flown Tuesday alone, two-thirds of which were in support of the opposition forces and one-third were against the Taliban's cave and tunnel complexes.
Meanwhile, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan said the U.S.-led campaign was failing and claimed the United States might use nuclear weapons if its operations continued to fail.
Mullah Abdul Salem Zaeef, speaking at a dinner for senior Pakistani journalists in Islamabad, also said a few unnamed Muslim countries had offered support to the Taliban and that two Northern Alliance commanders had joined the Taliban.
Zaeef also complained about what he said were new Pakistani government restrictions that stifle the Taliban's ability to hold its frequent news conferences.
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