US Warplanes Torch Kabul Fuel Depots, Taliban Strikes Back at Rebels

Published October 17th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Several fuel depots were engulfed in flames in Kabul Wednesday after the US bombing of an army division in the north of the Afghan capital, according to an Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) report cited by AFP. 

The raid on the compound of the 16th Taliban army division scorched the depots and sparked a major blaze which was "still burning" hours later, the Pakistan-based news agency said. 

Taliban spokesman Mullah Amir Khan Mutaqqi told AIP that at least eight civilians had been killed and 20 wounded in renewed bombing Wednesday on the southern Taliban stonghold of Kandahar. 

It was unclear if these included the 20 civilians reported to have been killed earlier by other Taliban officials, said AFP. 

Most of Kandahar's 200,000 population have already fled following sustained day and night bombing raids, and the city has been without water or electricity for four days, added the agency. 




Meanwhile, the European Union threw its "total, unreserved solidarity" behind US retaliatory bombing of Afghanistan, saying they were in "self defense" and conformed to UN Security Council resolutions, according to AFP. 

The attacks, which began October 7, target Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, believed harboring Osama bin Laden, number one suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. 

EU foreign ministers issued the declaration at a meeting in Luxemburg to hammer out a common stance on terrorism for the EU summit in Ghent, northern Belgium, on Friday. 

A draft statement of conclusions of the extraordinary meeting, drawn up by the current Belgian EU presidency, also put "the absolute, highest priority" on humanitarian aid to the Afghan people fleeing their homes and facing a harsh winter, said AFP. 

Furthermore, the EU reiterated the importance of a "multilateral and global approach ... under the aegis of the UN ... to ensure the cohesion of the international coalition in the fight against terrorism in all its aspects," according to the report. 




Earlier in the day, the Taliban militia launched a major counteroffensive to the east of the key northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in a bid to drive back opposition forces, resistance sources told AFP Wednesday. 

Senior opposition spokesman Mohammad Habeel told AFP the Islamic militia was striking toward Marmul district and Shadian Gorge to the east and southeast of the city, capital of Balkh province near the border with Uzbekistan. 

The counteroffensive, which has not been confirmed by Taliban officials, came after the opposition claimed to have moved within five kilometers (three miles) of the city's eastern edge. 

"The Taliban have launched a heavy offensive to retake areas which they lost a few days earlier," Habeel told AFP via satellite phone from Parwan province to the north of Kabul. 

"They are backed by 70 vehicles including tanks and pickups. Severe fighting is going on." 

Anti-Taliban forces backed by U.S. airstrikes looked close to capturing the key city in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, officials with both the opposition Northern Alliance and the Pentagon said, quoted by Los Angeles Times.  

The seizure of Mazar-i-Sharif, a onetime opposition stronghold that fell to the Taliban three years ago, appeared to be the biggest victory for the alliance since the US began bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7.  

A military analyst told Abu Dhabi satellite channel on Wednesday morning that the city would serve as a base for more US attacks, since it has a military airport, and is considered a gateway to the capital Kabul. 

Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif form a triangle that gives total power to the party dominating it, and for the Taliban to lose the latter is a big loss, he added. 

The LA Times also said that the city could provide an advance staging area or refueling depot for US helicopters and special forces units operating out of Khanabad air base in Uzbekistan, about 160 miles to the north.  

Seizure of the city and the surrounding countryside could also lead to the opening of a crucial supply route into Afghanistan from Uzbekistan. From Mazar-i-Sharif, the Uzbek border town of Termez is an hour away by road.  

Officials of the opposition and residents of Mazar-i-Sharif said Northern Alliance forces fought their way into the city Tuesday.  

Mohammed Ibrahim Ghafoori, an official in the Afghan government-in-exile's embassy in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, claimed that the alliance could capture the city as early as today. 

Mohammad Ashraf Nadeem, spokesman for opposition commander Mohammad Atta who has led attacks on the airport in Mazar-i-Sharif in recent days, told the agency the opposition had received no assistance from US air power, despite repeated US bombing raids over Mazar-i-Sharif since the air campaign against the Taliban began. 

"America hasn't helped us. We haven't asked for help. If they want to help us, they can," he said. 

Taliban officials confirmed that heavy fighting was raging around the city, just 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of the border with Uzbekistan, but gave no details on the situation. 

However the head of the Taliban's information agency, Abdul Hanan Hemat, said the city of Shibarghan about 150 kilometers (95 miles) to the west of Mazar-i-Sharif in Jozjan province had been bombed by US forces overnight Tuesday. 

Anti-Taliban fighters on Tuesday said they were advancing on the airport in Mazar-i-Sharif and expected to capture the strategic northern town within two days. 

"We are near Mazar-i-Sharif airport. We expect to take the city within the next day or two, but we will do it gradually," commander Atta said. 

Overnight, Kabul and Kandahar were heavily pounded, and four were reported killed in the latter city – 

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