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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
Six civilians reported killed in bombing
Taleban soldiers with anti-aircraft weapons
Taleban say they're ready to defend Kabul
At least six civilians have been killed as American bombs battered a number of Afghan cities on Thursday, independent journalists in the capital Kabul say.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said a senior official of Saudi-born militant Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network might have been killed.

Click here for a map of recent air strikes

US President George W Bush hinted that ground attacks might begin soon, and American propaganda broadcasts warned the Taleban to surrender or die.

The Taleban authorities claimed 400 civilians had been killed in 12 days of American-led attacks - a figure US officials dismissed as exaggerated. There was no independent confirmation.
A Northern Alliance fighter near Kabul
The opposition wants more US support

Independent journalists in Kabul, however, said six people - including five members of one family - were killed when bombs fell in a residential street.

If it is true that a senior al-Qaeda official has been killed, it would be the first death of an important member of the network which the United States blames for the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

Ground action close

But Mr Rumsfeld could not confirm it. He also indicated that ground troops might be used soon, saying air strikes alone could not achieve the goals of the US-led international coalition against terrorism.

US warplanes bombed a fuel depot in Kabul. Other raids struck the southern city of Kandahar, a Taleban stronghold, and Jalalabad, in the east.

ruins of village
The Taleban say hundreds of people have been killed

Mr Bush said ground troops could go into action soon because air strikes had weakened Taleban defences.

Taleban deny rebel advance

But Taleban officials denied reports that forces of the opposition Northern Alliance were advancing on the strategically important northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Washington has hinted that if the city is taken, coalition forces could use its airport as a launching point for a ground assault on the capital.

US officials have been giving details of propaganda broadcasts to Afghanistan.

The transmissions said American forces were bigger, faster and stronger than the Taleban, who would be spared only if they surrendered.

The US-led military campaign began after the Taleban refused to hand over Bin Laden.

A group of six international aid agencies has called for a pause in the air strikes to allow food supplies to be delivered before Afghanistan's severe winter sets in.

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 James Robbins
says there is still very little known about the effects of the bombings
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The main intention is to help the Northern Alliance"
See also:

18 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban return 'stolen' aid
18 Oct 01 | South Asia
UN wary of Powell's peacekeeping plans
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
The Taleban's winter ally
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