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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
US deploys lethal low-flying gunship
Air Force AC-130
The AC-130 has formidable firepower
The US military have started using a slow low-flying ground attack aircraft in their raids on Afghanistan.

In other strikes on Tuesday, Associated Press news agency said International Red Cross officials in Kabul had reported that a compound had been hit during an air raid.

They said wheat and other humanitarian supplies were destroyed. A local security guard was wounded.

The Defence Department in Washington says the low-flying AC-130 aircraft - highly protected and heavily armed versions of the Hercules transport plane - attacked a Taleban headquarters and troop concentration in the southern city of Kandahar.

The Taleban has been targeted on multiple fronts on Tuesday, with air strikes on military bases and airports outside the capital Kabul, Kandahar and the key northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Russian television said that the mission against Brigade 55 - a 500-strong unit of Arab volunteers that is at the heart of Osama Bin Laden's forces - began on Monday night.

Ground troops

The AC-130, one of the most lethal US aircraft, is especially suited to tracking small groups of troops and convoys of vehicles.

A BBC correspondent inside northern Afghanistan says its deployment implies the US is now confident that the Taleban's air defences have been all but destroyed and that it may even be a prelude to the first use of ground troops.

We're working to make clear to the Afghan people that we support them and we want to help free their nation from the grip of the Taleban

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Taleban Information Ministry official Abdul Himat said the attack on Kandahar on Monday night - when the AC-130 was first introduced - killed 13 civilians. That statement could not be independently verified.

As the aerial bombardment continued for a second week, former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah appealed to the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force to Afghanistan in the event of the Taleban's collapse.

In a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Zahir Shah warned that a power vacuum in Afghanistan could lead to renewed fighting.

Monday's intense bombing struck Taleban troop concentrations and suspected weapons storage sites in the north of Kabul and around the airport.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld says Afghans are not the target
Independent sources in Kabul said targets on Monday included a house where some foreign Islamic militants used to live, and a military base in the north of the city housing one of the Taleban's battalions.

Qatar-based al-Jazeera television said two residential areas in the capital had also been hit.

Elsewhere, a jet bombed the outskirts of the eastern city of Jalalabad, reportedly hitting a former training camp of Osama Bin Laden. An airport in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif was also targeted.

And the Taleban said 12 people were killed and 32 injured when the northern city of Qala-i-nau was attacked. The statement could not be independently verified.

Click here for a map of recent air strikes

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that on Sunday warplanes started to drop leaflets, which the US hopes will convince the Afghan people that they are not the targets of the ongoing strikes.

One of the leaflets shows a western soldier shaking hands with a man in traditional Afghan garb, while another gives the frequencies and times of American broadcasts.

ruins of village
The Taleban say over 200 people have been killed

Afghans fleeing to neighbouring Pakistan to escape the strikes spoke of horrors in their home towns.

"I've seen the bodies of women and children pulled out of the rubble of their homes," Abdul Wali, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, told the Reuters news agency as he arrived in Quetta.

Shops are shutting early in Kabul and petrol is expensive and in short supply. At a Kabul hospital, doctors said the nightly power cuts were threatening the lives of babies that need incubators.

Launch new window : Detailed map
Click here for a detailed map of the strikes so far

Click here to return

The BBC's Peter Gould
"The Pentagon says it is continuing to destroy targets associated with Bin Laden"
Mario Musa from the International Red Cross
"We are very much present throughout Afghanistan"
See also:

16 Oct 01 | Americas
Profile: AC-130 gunship
15 Oct 01 | South Asia
Thousands cross into Pakistan illegally
15 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan rebels change tack
14 Oct 01 | Americas
Military campaign: One week on
14 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Warriors on land and sea
14 Oct 01 | Middle East
Kuwait disowns Bin Laden aide
14 Oct 01 | South Asia
Millions at risk in Afghan crisis
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