Heavy bombing rains down on Taliban stronghold
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Residents of this southern city woke up Friday morning to the sound of explosions as allied warplanes made pass after pass over the region, hitting Taliban targets.
The round of bombing began Thursday afternoon and has not let up. Many of the bombing runs were concentrated at the Taliban co-commander's headquarters in the northern part of the city, a site that has already been bombed several times.
People in the city do not understand why this site keeps being bombed, when many believe there is nothing left there.
Kandahar's residents, especially women and children, are beginning to fear that their ancient homes will crumble from the constant explosions.
The frequent bombardments have sent up clouds of dust in the city. While many Taliban personnel have been driven out of urban areas by the bombings, there are still Taliban militia present to keep law and order. However, they now only appear in public in groups of two or three so they will not attract allied fire.
Elsewhere, Northern Alliance forces have made advances on the northern front just south of Mazar-e Sharif, a strategic Taliban-held town, alliance officials told CNN.
A 'gunfight' in Mazar-e Sharif
In Washington, U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the officer in charge of the day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan, said the city is "interesting to us" because it would provide a land bridge to Uzbekistan for both troops and humanitarian aid.
Asked to describe the Northern Alliance's progress, Franks would only say that a "gunfight" was in progress in the vicinity of Mazar-e Sharif.
"It is a bit early for us to say that this will establish the land bridge," Franks said.
In other developments, the Arabic language television network Al-Jazeera broadcast an interview with the spokesman of a Pakistani militant group who said 85 of the group's soldiers had been killed south of Mazar-e Sharif by U.S. bombing.
The spokesman for the militant Harkat Jihad-i-Islami group said a number of members of the group, including the group's commander, had been "seriously injured."
Al-Jazeera also broadcast pictures of Taliban fighters in the Nangarhar province who said they were leaving the area because of the bombing. In the video, a number of men identified as Taliban fighters were transporting a car on a boat across a river.
The Qatar-based network also showed pictures of what it said were volunteers who had come to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan to join the Taliban. The volunteers could be seen getting ammunition and rifles.
U.S. airstrikes are being targeted to aid the alliance advance, but forces face a tough challenge should they attempt to advance on Mazar-e Sharif from the south. The Taliban hold several hill ranges along the way that alliance officials concede could take weeks, if not more, to wrest away.
Alliance efforts are further complicated by the logistical challenge posed by the Afghan terrain, and the fact that the pocket from which they are launching attacks on Mazar-e Sharif is surrounded by Taliban forces.
In eastern Afghanistan, north of Kabul, U.S. warplanes targeted Taliban frontline troops Thursday along the Shamali Plains and the Shafy mountain range near the strategic Bagram air base.
Recent airstrikes have hit Taliban positions near Bagram with about a dozen bombs.
The attacks appeared to be spread out over a 10-mile (16-kilometer) range with bombs falling every 15 to 20 minutes over a two-hour period.
The airstrikes, for the first time, appeared to be hitting Taliban positions in the Safy mountains that run between opposition front lines and Kabul to the south.
The Safy mountain range is of strategic importance because it overlooks the Bagram air base, which was built by Soviet forces during their war with Afghanistan in the 1980s.
As long as Taliban forces hold the high ground above the base, it would be unusable by Northern Alliance, U.S. and allied forces as a possible staging ground for attacks on Kabul.
A former mujahideen commander and six of his followers have been arrested by the Taliban in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province and charged with espionage, according to relatives and supporters.
Khair Mohammad, the ex-commander, and the others have not yet been tried or sentenced. The arrest comes on the heels of the capture and execution of the prominent former mujahideen commander Abdul Haq, who was convicted of spying for the United States.
-- CNN Correspondent Kamal Hyder contributed to this report.
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