US Airstrikes Enter Second Week but No Sign of Taliban Cracking
US warplanes pounded the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar relentlessly Sunday as the onslaught on Afghanistan entered a second week with reports of civilian casualties mounting and no sign of an end to the conflict.
Reporters who visited a village in eastern Afghanistan, which the Taliban says was bombed by the US-led forces last week, found scenes of devastation and angry residents who said around 200 of their relatives and neighbors had perished in a mis-directed attack. Washington maintained a stony silence on the incident.
Kabul, where the US admitted hitting a residential area on Saturday, was fast becoming a ghost town as the cumulative effect of seven days and nights of bombardment took its toll on a normally stoic people.
"Believe me, whenever there's a raid my children start crying. Last night even I cried with them," said Mohammad Nabi, 41, an auto spare parts salesman in the Qwaee Markaz area of Kabul. "When women and children scream in the middle of the night, that is terrifying enough in itself."
Kabul, Kandahar and three other cities were attacked repeatedly from before dawn on Saturday until mid-morning Sunday.
The bombing of Kandahar, the base for most of the Taliban leadership and a former home to Osama bin Laden, continued throughout the day. Taliban officials said targets included the airport, a military base close to the city centre and the surrounding mountains.
As in Kabul, many inhabitants of the southern city have fled to the surrounding countryside. Residents reported Sunday that the latest bombing had cut the city's electricity and water supplies.
Despite the pressure, there was no sign that the Taliban is willing to sever its links to bin Laden, whose handover the United States has demanded in return for stopping the bombing.
As bin Laden's al-Qaeda network threatened a repeat of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar made it clear he had no intention of abandoning his friend.
"The storm of airplanes will not be calmed, if it is God's will," bin Laden aide Suleiman Abu Ghaith said in a recorded message broadcast by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television network early Sunday.
"We tell and recommend Muslims not to get on airplanes and not live in towers and high buildings" in the countries which have carried out air strikes against Afghanistan, Ghaith said.
Omar said in a statement late Saturday that bin Laden, who has lived under Taliban protection since 1996, would never be given up.
"Our sin is that we have enforced Islamic laws in the country. We have given shelter to an innocent and shelterless Muslim who is not even allowed to spend an hour in any other country."
In the eastern village of Kadam, near Jalalabad, an AFP reporter saw the destruction first-hand as the Taliban escorted international journalists through a rural community which was bombed in the early hours of Thursday.
Dozens of houses had collapsed and survivors put the death toll between 180 to 230, matching earlier Taliban claims that some 200 villagers had perished.
Abdul Rasool, 40, said his was one of the dozens of homes destroyed. His wife, whose name he did not want to give, and three sons, Satik, six, Turial, 10 and Pardes, 15, were all killed.
Rasool escaped because, as he has done every day of his adult life, he had risen before dawn to attend morning prayers. He was on his way home, at around 5:00 am, when the bomb struck.
"I heard a huge bang and I ran to my house but there was nothing I could do. It was completely destroyed," he said.
"My family, all my animals are dead. I have nothing left. Why has this happened to me?"
The Pentagon has not commented on the incident in Kadam but has confirmed that a 2,000-pound (907-kilogram) bomb aimed at a military helicopter hit a residential area near Kabul airport on Saturday.
The Taliban claims more than 300 civilians have been killed since the bombings began on October 7, but the numbers have been virtually impossible to verify given severe restrictions on journalists moving around the country.
Even the villagers interviewed at Kadam were introduced by the Taliban and there was no way of verifying the death toll. But it was clear to the visiting journalists that the village had been decimated.
The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency said residential areas of Jalalabad were hit again overnight Saturday but there were no reports of casualties.
In neighboring Pakistan, one person died and at least 10 others were injured in gunbattles with police near an airfield being used by US forces in the southwestern city of Jacobabad, near the Afghan border.
The airfield has been made available as a US logistical and support base under Pakistan's offer of "full cooperation" with the war on terrorism, but the presence of US personnel has infuriated Islamic radical groups with close ties to the Taliban -- KABUL (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)