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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Battle for Afghan stronghold
Northern Alliance fighter watches US war planes bombing Rabat
The US has attacked Taleban front lines for three days
Afghanistan's anti-Taleban opposition say they have launched a new offensive on the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, as US warplanes continue to pound front lines north of the capital, Kabul.


Our forces launched an attack yesterday and the fighting has been fierce

Warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum
Northern Alliance warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum said his forces were locked in fierce battles with the Taleban near Mazar - which was once his stronghold and which he is eager to recapture.

Another key alliance commander, Mohammed Atta, said his men had launched a joint ground and air attack overnight on Keshendeh, 70 kilometres (40 miles) south of Mazar.

After a day-long respite for Kabul itself, American bombing resumed on Tuesday, with residents reporting three loud explosions after midnight and a further two bombs dropped at dawn.

Click here for map of the battlegrounds

Taleban anti-aircraft guns opened fire mid-morning as warplanes passed overhead again, possibly heading for further bomb runs at the front lines.

The last time Kabul was hit, the Taleban artillery was silent, leading to speculation over damage to their air defences in the bombing.

In other developments:

  • The UN says a military hospital in the western Afghan city of Herat has been destroyed by bombing - but have no information about casualties
  • Meanwhile, an unamed defence official in Washington is quoted as saying the Pentagon is investigating reports that an American missile went astray over Herat on Monday
  • Osama Bin Laden, whom the US believes masterminded the 11 September terror attacks, is still alive, the Taleban confirm
  • Democrat House leader Richard Gephart says "we all suspect" a link between the anthrax outbreak in the US and Bin Laden after meeting President Bush
  • Pakistan and the Taleban agree to set up camps in Afghanistan away from the border for thousands of refugees
  • More than 1,000 British troops are being prepared for deployment in any potential ground war in Afghanistan
  • Baton-wielding police in Jacobabad beat back protesters demonstrating against a US military presence in Pakistan
  • A Japanese man - thought to be a journalist - is detained by the Taleban in eastern Afghanistan

The Taleban fired two rockets at Charikar, the NA-held town nearest to the Kabul front line, both of which fell into crowded streets in the city centre killing several people - the first such attack in several weeks.

Al-Jazeera video grab of bombed fuel convoy near Kandahar
A bombed fuel convoy was filmed by al-Jazeera TV
A BBC cameraman saw the second rocket hit a market stall throwing an old man into the air with the force of the blast.

Five people are reported to have died when US jets bombed a convoy of fuel tanker trucks bringing fuel to the southern city of Kandahar.

The Taleban Information Ministry also said a US bomb fell on a mosque in the western city of Herat, killing people praying inside.

This follows US denials on Monday that American bombs had hit a hospital in the same city killing about 100 people.

The American Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has said the US attacks on Taleban front lines in support of the opposition are a "logical progression" of the American-led military campaign.

New focus

Speaking on Monday at a Pentagon news conference, Mr Rumsfeld confirmed that US warplanes had begun bombing Taleban troops north of Kabul and near Mazar-e-Sharif on Sunday.

Opposition fighter at Chahrak
The opposition holds about 10 per cent of Afghan territory
"Our efforts from the air clearly are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground," he said.

The US campaign against the Taleban began more than two weeks ago after they refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden - whom the US accused of masterminding last month's terror attacks on New York and Washington - and key members of his al-Qaeda network.

On Monday, Mr Rumsfeld also said the US was working with both the Northern Alliance and tribes in southern Afghanistan to strengthen opposition to the Taleban.

The US has urged the Northern Alliance to occupy more ground before the onset of winter.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week that Washington wants the Northern Alliance to take Mazar-e-Sharif, whose large airport could be used as a base for operations by US forces.

But he added that the US was still continuing discussions about whether a rebel march into Kabul would be "the best thing".




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Click here for a detailed map of the strikes so far

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"The focus is switching to operations on the ground"
The BBC's Mike Wooldridge reports from Afghanistan
"The Americans are trying to put the squeeze on the Taleban"
See also:

23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Civilian toll growing, say Taleban
22 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The world's plans for Afghans
24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
'Net closing' on Bin Laden
23 Oct 01 | Americas
The CIA's new mission
22 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban deny leader's son killed
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