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The Guardian: US and Britain Begin Attacks on Taliban

by The Guardian, UK Monday, Oct. 08, 2001 at 4:34 PM

The "international alliance" consisted of just two countries--the US and the UK--as the first military strikes were launched today. This account comes from one of the most informative sources inside the second country in this alliance: "Minutes after the strikes on Kabul, the Taliban's stronghold of Kandahar also came under attack, provoking a mass exodus from the city. Jalalabad was next, and there were reports that smaller towns in the north as well the major city of Mazar-i-Sharif had come under fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties."

US and Britain Begin Attacks on Taliban

* Afghanistan's main cities under attack

* Bin Laden makes defiant TV appearance

* Blair pledges UK support

Staff and agencies

Sunday October 7, 2001



The US and Britain tonight dropped bombs and fired sea-launched missiles at targets in Afghanistan as the long-expected assault on the Taliban and Osama bin Laden finally began.

The attack was announced by President George Bush from the White House and moments later by Tony Blair at Downing Street.

The first planes roared over Kabul at around 16.20 GMT, soon after a nightly curfew took effect. The night sky was lit up by bombs and missiles launched at targets in the city and near the airport. At 21.45 GMT a fresh wave of attacks was reported to be hitting the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Taliban forces in Kabul fired volleys of anti-aircraft fire into the night sky in response to the air raids, to little apparent effect. Electricity was cut almost immediately, although it was not clear if this was a result of a strike or a defensive measure. It was restored about 90 minutes later.

Minutes after the strikes on Kabul, the Taliban's stronghold of Kandahar also came under attack, provoking a mass exodus from the city. Jalalabad was next, and there were reports that smaller towns in the north as well the major city of Mazar-i-Sharif had come under fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Although long expected, the strikes still caught residents of the impoverished capital by surprise.

"You could hear planes, then I heard anti-aircraft fire," one resident said. "Then I heard loud explosions, maybe four or five. They were close together so it was hard to tell."

One big blast struck near the Taliban's defence ministry, south of the presidential palace. Anti-aircraft batteries near the airport to the south of the capital also appeared to be a target, although it was not possible to determine if they had been hit. A large plume of smoke was still billowing near the airport more than an hour after the attack.

Residents of Kandahar reported panic in the city that is the Taliban's spiritual stronghold and headquarters of Mullah Omar, protector of Bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks. A second wave of attacks launched about two hours later appeared aimed at the home of Mullah Omar. One Taliban source in Kandahar said the main airport complex, built by the US in the 1950s, had been hit in the raid, but the runway was undamaged.

About 15 land-based bombers and about 25 carrier-based strike aircraft were used in the initial strike, which involved firing about 50 Tomahawk missiles, Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said. The Taliban said they had downed an aircraft in the southern province of Farah, but the claim was denied by the Pentagon.

Sunday's strikes included B-2 bombers launched from Whiteman Air Force in Missouri as well as heavy B-52 and B-1 bombers based on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Smaller attack jets were launched from at least two US aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean and Gulf.

The Afghan opposition launched an assault on the Taliban militia from an air force base just north of the capital, just hours after the first wave of US and British air strikes.

Northern alliance forces controlling the Bagram air force base fired multiple-rocket launchers at Taliban forces in the surrounding mountains.

The Taliban returned fire using Soviet-made BM-21 rockets. The opposition has said the base, about 25 miles north of Kabul, could eventually be used as a base for US forces. But first the Taliban will have to be pushed out from the surrounding high ground. Full story

Defence secretary's briefing The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said the attack was designed to "disrupt and destroy" terrorist networks in the country and "set the conditions" for future military action.

In a press conference at the Pentagon - a building partially destroyed by the September 11 terrorist attacks - General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the first missile was launched at 12.30pm eastern standard time (4.30pm GMT). He added that the "operations continue as we speak".

The attacks were launched from15 US bombers - included B-1, B-2 and B-52s - 25 strike aircraft and 50 cruise missiles launched from ships and submarines in the region. The B-2s flew from their base in Missouri.

Mr Rumsfeld maintained that although this evening's action was focused on Bin Laden and the Taliban, the wider aim was to "defeat those who use terrorism and those who house or support them."

He added that there was no "silver bullet" that would swiftly end the terrorism crisis. He said it was too early to judge whether this evening's operations had been a success but that a current objective is to strengthen opposition forces in Afghanistan already fighting the Taliban.

Confirming the US's "bombs and butter" strategy towards the country Mr Rumsfeld said that allied forces were already dropping humanitarian supplies.

=========

For the full story, and other related stories, click on the link below.

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