Undaunted Taliban Blunt Opposition Advance Despite US Airpower
US warplanes bombed Taliban frontlines in Afghanistan again Tuesday but failed to help an opposition offensive, accompanied by US special forces, break though to the strategic northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Mohammed Atta, an opposition Northern Alliance commander, told AFP the US bombing early Tuesday had followed a joint ground and air attack overnight on Keshendeh, 70 kilometers (40 miles) south of Mazar in Balkh province.
He said between 10 and 20 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting as the opposition at first stepped up pressure on Taliban positions, then fell back as the militia counter-attacked.
"At first we made advances but later on the Taliban launched a counter-attack and they were able to regain the lost ground," he said.
He said that on top of the Taliban casualties, the militia also lost several heavy weapons and vehicles, many of which were destroyed in heavy US bombing on Monday.
At least 15 US soldiers, believed to be members of a special forces team, were said to have been with ethnic Uzbek opposition commander Abdul Rashid Dostam during the attack. A spokesman for Atta said they were "gathering intelligence."
Opposition forces also have been battling the Taliban on a different frontline to the east of Mazar-i-Sharif and at one point last week came close to capturing the city's airport before a Taliban offensive drove them back.
Mazar-i-Sharif's capture by the opposition would provide US forces based in Uzbekistan to the north a forward platform to launch attacks from inside Afghanistan. It would also deny the Taliban a major base of supply and cut off the militia's forces further west.
Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef later Tuesday confirmed that the militia's frontline troops near Kabul and in the north around Mazar-i-Sharif had been bombed but dismissed suggestions the opposition was poised to capture either city.
"The Emirate's forces were bombed by the Americans north of Kabul and near Mazar-i-Sharif in Samangan (province) but they did not succeed," he told a press conference.
He said the opposition had suffered a "huge and humiliating defeat" near Mazar in recent days and would not be able to strike back for a "very long time."
Since US air strikes started on October 7, the opposition has been seeking to stretch the hardline Islamic movement in the north and west to prepare the way for an assault on Kabul.
US planes bombed Taliban lines north of the capital Tuesday for the third consecutive day as the warring sides exchanged artillery and rocket fire, but an AFP reporter at the scene said there were no signs of an opposition ground attack.
Two Taliban rockets hit a crowded market in Charikar, an opposition-held town 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of here, killing two civilians and wounding 17.
Senior opposition commanders voiced frustration over the US jet strikes on the frontlines north of Kabul.
"This is nowhere near enough," complained Commander Esmarai. "In the last week the Americans have dropped around 12 bombs on the Taliban. They need to do at least this everyday. What they are doing is not effective."
General Baba Jan, an opposition commander in the Bagram area north of Kabul, said: "If the Americans just bomb the cities, they will kill civilians. They should bomb the frontline. This is just too little" -- Kabul, (AFP)
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