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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK
Taleban strike back at Northern Alliance
Taleban soldiers with anti-aircraft weapons
Taleban troops are ready to defend Kabul
Taleban forces have launched a counter-attack against Northern Alliance opposition fighters near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, reports from Afghanistan say.

The reports - both from sources close to the Taleban and the opposition - cast doubt on Northern Alliance claims that they would soon capture the city and its strategically important airport.

The Taleban offensive comes as the United States changes its air strike tactics, shifting from striking only predetermined stationary targets to moving ones identified minute-by-minute by airborne intelligence.

A Northern Alliance fighter near Kabul
The opposition wants more US support
Western officials, however, have denied that the US is providing air support to Northern Alliance fighters.

The opposition claimed earlier that it was receiving US air support.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles in northern Afghanistan says the Northern Alliance is disappointed that it is receiving only limited assistance from the Americans.

He says the US does not want the opposition to take Kabul before a broader-based government can be formed to replace the Taleban.

But President George Bush, speaking in California before leaving for Shanghai, did indicate that the US air strikes would eventually lead to the ousting of the Taleban.

"We're paving the way for friendly troops to defeat the Taleban, and root out the al-Qaeda parasites that the Taleban hosts and protects," Mr Bush said.

US strikes

The BBC's John Simpson, reporting from Charakar, overlooking the Taleban front line, reported big plumes of brown smoke rising over the line of trenches on Wednesday.

Click here for a map of recent air strikes

Doctors at Kabul hospitals said they had admitted 10 people wounded in the morning strikes, including two children, Reuters reported.

US planes have again attacked the southern city of Kandahar, power base of Taleban leader Mullah Omar.

Residents told the Associated Press news agency by telephone that Taleban fighters were handing out weapons to civilians in the city.

They residents said about 150 men armed with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles were guarding Mullah Omar's compound.

Taleban officials said 47 civilians have been killed in the Kandahar area in the past two days, but the reports could not be independently verified.

US jets also bombed military targets outside the eastern city of Jalalabad, enveloping the area in clouds of dust, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported.

Bombing error

The UN has warned that law and order appears to be breaking down in some cities in Afghanistan.

Bombing blunders
Oct 01: Red Cross worker injured as US missile hits Kabul compound
Oct 01: Four Afghan guards from UN mine clearing agency killed by stray US bomb in Kabul
May 99: Nato bombs Chinese embassy, Belgrade, killing three and injuring 20
Apr 99: At least 20 refugees in Kosovo convoy killed in Nato attack
Apr 99: Nato raid on rail bridge in southern Serbia hits train, killing 10 and injuring 16
Feb 91: US laser-guided bomb hits Baghdad bunker, killing over 300
The UN's World Food Programme says that Taleban troops have seized two of its grain warehouses.

A gang of armed men attacked the offices of a British-based aid organisation Islamic Relief in Kandahar, and then clashed with Taleban officials.

And in Mazar-e-Sharif, Taleban members looted the offices of another organisation.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, has admitted that it hit a Red Cross warehouse in the capital on Tuesday by mistake.

US officials said they were targeting military vehicles and thought the warehouse was being used by the Taleban.

Ground assault planes

An employee of the French news agency AFP in Kabul said they saw a US AC-130 ground attack plane involved in an attack over the north of Kabul, causing "huge" explosions.

Air Force AC-130
An AC-130 gunship was brought into action
Two AC-130s, large low-flying planes which can saturate areas with fire, were used in attacks earlier this week around Kandahar.

Wednesday's attack is the first time they are believed to have been used in Kabul.

The use of AC-130s signals a new phase in the operation, with the US appearing to be moving towards deploying ground troops in Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden.

A Marine Corps spokesman said US and UK forces had struck military targets and guerrilla bases with "well over 2,000" bombs and missiles since strikes began on 7 October.

Taleban figures show the overall death toll rising to nearly 400 - about one-third of them from a single village near Jalalabad, hit last week. US officials reject the figures, and there has been no independent confirmation.

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

Launch new window : Military glossary
Guide to the military hardware being used

Click here to return

The BBC's John Simpson
reports from the front-line on the latest attacks
The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Afghanistan
"There is no sign yet that the Taleban are beginning to crumble"
See also:

17 Oct 01 | South Asia
Powell gets Indian backing
16 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban face civil unrest
16 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition 'seizes key airport'
16 Oct 01 | South Asia
Karam raid examined
16 Oct 01 | Americas
Profile: AC-130 gunship
14 Oct 01 | South Asia
Millions at risk in Afghan crisis
16 Oct 01 | South Asia
India issues Kashmir warning
17 Oct 01 | Americas
Recordings reveal hijack confusion
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