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  U.S. Jets Damage Kandahar Hospital

By Bassam Hatoum
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2001; 11:39 a.m. EST

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan –– U.S. jets struck before dawn Wednesday near the southern city of Kandahar and badly damaged a hospital, witnesses said. Air attacks also pounded Taliban positions north of Kabul and near the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

North of Kabul, jets attacked a Taliban field headquarters in some of the heaviest bombing of the front line yet. At least 11 bombs struck Wednesday morning.

"They (U.S. planes) can target very precisely. We hope they can target them as well," opposition fighter Mohammed Rashid said of the Taliban as he watched the dust clouds move across the Shomali Plain, some 30 miles north of Kabul.

In Kandahar, a doctor speaking in the presence of Taliban officials said 15 people were killed and 25 others severely injured in the attack on the hospital, located about one mile northeast of the city center.

Western and other foreign journalists – including two from Associated Press Television News – were taken by the Taliban to the hospital, operated by the Afghan Red Crescent, the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross. They saw some of the injured but no bodies.

Two ambulances and two pickup trucks were destroyed in the attack, and damage to the building was extensive. The doctor, Obeidallah Hadid, suffered a slight head injury.

The concrete building was a mass of protruding steel bars and chunks of masonry. Part of the structure had slipped into what appeared to be a bomb crater. Red Crescent flags were fluttering on a post outside, and stretchers lay against one wall.

The Taliban-escorted media tour was the first to this city since the U.S.-led air raids began Oct. 7.

In Islamabad, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, claimed a total of 1,500 people had been killed so far in the assault on Afghanistan, now in its fourth week. The Pentagon has accused the Taliban of inflating civilian casualties and denies civilians are intentionally targeted.

Zaeef also said the U.S. efforts to help the anti-Taliban opposition capture Mazar-e-Sharif showed the U.S.-led campaign was not to combat terrorism but "to establish a puppet government in the north" and "wipe out our Islamic identity."

"This is the worst type of state terrorism that the White House administration is perpetuating in Afghanistan," he said.

President Bush launched the airstrikes after the ruling Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the September terrorist attacks in the United States.

The official Bakhtar news agency also reported heavy air attacks around Mazar-e-Sharif, which the opposition has been trying to regain since they were driven out by the Taliban in 1998.

Bakhtar gave no details. However, the Afghan Islamic Press, based in Pakistan, said U.S. planes attacked Taliban positions defending Mazar-e-Sharif in the provinces of Samangan and Balkh, as well as Taliban targets in Parwan province northwest of Kabul.

Bakhtar said residents in Jabraheel, west of Herat city where several U.N. refugee camps are located, have found small explosives the Taliban say were dropped two nights ago when the U.S.-led coalition used cluster bombs. One person died after picking up a small bomb, the agency said. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Afghanistan's opposition northern alliance is preparing for a march on Kabul and has deployed hundreds of crack troops near Taliban front lines north of the city. Taliban positions in those areas were hit by U.S. bombs Tuesday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged Tuesday that the United States had a "very modest" number of uniformed military personnel in Afghanistan, coordinating airstrikes with the opposition.

Rumsfeld said the U.S. soldiers aren't telling the rebels what to do, adding, "These people have been fighting in that country for ages."

A senior opposition official said such coordination will increase, and alliance forces were planning a major offensive to take Mazar-e-Sharif. The opposition hopes that taking the city will open supply routes from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

"There is coordination in all aspects," said Abdullah, the foreign minister of the Afghan opposition's government-in-exile, who uses one name. He added: "There will be much better coordination in the coming days."

Saeed Hussain Anwari, chief of a Shiite Muslim faction in the northern alliance, said that a few days ago, seven or eight U.S. soldiers in civilian dress were in Kapisa and Parwan provinces, north of Kabul, for meetings with opposition commanders. Anwari described them as "special forces" with "special experience."

Amir Khan Muttaqi, spokesman for the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, said he was unconcerned about the presence of U.S. soldiers with the opposition northern alliance.

"This is not new," he said. "They have been there before since this began. It won't make any difference. I can say proudly Afghans will never be ruled by anyone who is brought in by force."

In other attacks-related developments:

– The FBI issued a terrorist alert for this week based on intelligence involving Afghanistan and known al-Qaida supporters elsewhere in the world, officials said on condition of anonymity. They said U.S. intelligence is concerned that bin Laden's inner circle has issued new attack orders and that the terrorists might strike even if they can't reach contacts in Afghanistan.

– After the warning about possible new attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily banned private planes from flying near nuclear power plants. Commercial airplanes, which fly at higher altitudes, will not be affected.

– Bush urged U.S. lawmakers to support his version of an aviation security bill that would give the federal government control of airport screening without hiring thousands of new federal workers. The House votes Thursday on the legislation.

– Turkish television reported that U.S. officials have asked Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member, to deploy up to 50 of its troops in Afghanistan to train the opposition northern alliance. The reports said Turkish leaders were likely to agree as long as the troops were not directly involved in combat.

– The American Red Cross said it has raised enough money to help victims of the terrorist attacks and will stop asking for donations. The Liberty Fund held dlrs 547 million in pledges as of Monday.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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