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Sunday, 21 October, 2001, 05:14 GMT 06:14 UK
Kabul air defences subdued
File picture of US servicemen loading cannon on board an AC-130 gunship
US air attacks are now helping forces on the ground
The United States has launched more air strikes on Afghanistan, a day after elite troops clashed with Taleban fighters on the ground for the first time since the campaign began.

Low-flying US jets are reported to have dropped at least four bombs on Kabul overnight, drawing less anti-aircraft fire than usual.


US forces were able to deploy, manoeuvre and operate inside Afghanistan without significant interference from Taleban forces

Richard Myers, US Joint Chiefs Chairman
Correspondents say this could suggest the Americans have been reducing the Taleban's capacity to respond with increasing effectiveness, or that the Taleban are now saving what ammunition they have left.

The Taleban's culture and information minister, Qudratulah Jamal, told French news agency AFP that US forces used helicopters in the attack on Kabul for the first time.

Aside from the aircraft carrying out the bombing, another slow-moving plane was heard over the city, possibly an AC-130 gunship.

Some Taleban soldiers fired back with their rifles, as loudspeakers played religious songs.

Click here to see where US ground forces have been operating

Senior American commanders say the focus of the attack has switched - from buildings and facilities to targets which would have an impact in a ground battle.

More than 30 aircraft took part in attacks on Kabul and the southern Taleban stronghold of Kandahar, according to Reuters news agency.

In other developments:

    Pentagon video showing special forces in raid on Afghanistan
    The US military says more ground raids will follow

  • Pakistan says a senior Taleban official, tribal affairs minister Jalaluddin Haqqani, is holding talks in Islamabad on the creation of a broad-based government, but the minister himself gives no indication that anyone in the Taleban is ready to step down
  • The exodus of Afghan refugees continues, with up to 4,000 people reported to have crossed the Chaman border post into Pakistan on Saturday
  • Pakistan allows the US to use a third airbase near the Afghanistan border
  • A small bomb explodes at the main international airport in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, but there are no casualties
  • Senior Afghan opposition commander General Dostum appears on Turkish television to deny reports of his death
  • President Bush tells the Asia-Pacific summit in Shanghai that the US is fighting for "values shared by the West, Asia and Islam"
  • The UN says its humanitarian operations in Afghanistan are threatened with a breakdown in law and order, and its ability to operate is diminishing daily

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge, who is in northern Afghanistan, says the Americans are clearly determined to continue waging the war against Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban on all fronts now, having displayed their ability to stage commando raids too.

More than 100 US special forces attacked an airfield and a command and control facility near to where the Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar lived in Kandahar in the early hours of Saturday.

US defence chiefs said the squad of Army Rangers did not meet significant resistance from Taleban fighters and withdrew safely after several hours.

"US forces were able to deploy, manoeuvre and operate inside Afghanistan without significant interference from Taleban forces," US Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers told a Pentagon briefing.

Osama Bin Laden
The Taleban say they will never give up Osama Bin Laden

He said the special forces were "repositioning for potential future operations against terrorist targets in other areas known to harbour terrorists".

Air Force General Richard Myers played video clips of the operation, showing what he described as preparations on the ground, the take-off of aircraft, parachute drops and the capture and destruction of a small weapons cache.

The US suffered its first casualties of the conflict when two servicemen died after a helicopter supporting the mission crashed in Pakistan.

The joint chiefs chairman denied Taleban claims it had shot down the aircraft.

President George Bush, who is in Shanghai for a summit of Asia-Pacific nations, said the two soldiers "will not have died in vain", but warned Americans to expect "moments of sacrifice".

In northern Afghanistan, the opposition Northern Alliance is reported to have advanced on the strategically important city of Mazar-e Sharif, but lost ground when the Taleban counter-attacked.




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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Afghanistan
"The lack of anti-aircraft fire suggests the Taleban are now fast losing their ability to respond"
New pictures of the US Special Forces in action

See also:

20 Oct 01 | South Asia
Key sites targeted by US troops
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
US special forces 'inside Afghanistan'
01 Oct 01 | Americas
Profile: US special forces
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Plight of the refugees
16 Oct 01 | Americas
Profile: AC-130 gunship
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