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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 15:53 GMT
US 'bombed Afghan power plant'
Northern Alliance fighters watch the explosions
The use of B-52s appears to mark a change of tactics
American bombs have hit one of Afghanistan's biggest power plants, cutting electricity supplies to the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar and the city of Lashkargah, Taleban officials say.

A Taleban spokesman said if there was any further damage to the Kajaki dam which feeds the power station, thousands of people would be at risk from flooding.


There has been no independent confirmation of the attack on the dam, which the Islamic militia say is nowhere near any military installation.

The report came as the Pentagon told reporters that B-52 bombers were being used to pound Taleban positions across the country.

Taleban front lines to the north of the capital Kabul were carpet bombed overnight, as well as positions close to the Tajikistan border.

The policy of carpet-bombing appears to mark a change of US strategy of covering wide areas instead of individual targets - a tactic which may make it easier for anti-Taleban forces to pursue ground attacks.

But reports quote the Taleban as saying they successfully beat off an offensive by Northern Alliance forces.

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

And in another statement, Taleban forces said they had shot down an American plane near the town of Mazar-e-Sharif - a claim immediately denied by the Pentagon in Washington.

Civilian toll

The Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salem Zaeef, said that a Red Crescent hospital in Kandahar had been hit on Wednesday by B-52 bombers.

The report has not been confirmed independently, and the Pentagon says it hit a building some 30 metres away from the hospital.

Mr Zaeef said this bombing and the attack on the power station proved that the US was targeting civilians.

The Islamic militia on Wednesday claimed that the US-led campaign had cost 1,500 civilian lives since it began on 7 October.

US officials say the estimates are greatly exaggerated.

Devastation

The BBC's Simon Ingram, one of the foreign journalists taken by the Taleban to visit the Kandahar area, has been to a village that was flattened in an air raid.

Dust clouds from a B-52 bomb run over Afghanistan
The US says it is carpet bombing Taleban positions
"What we found was a scene of total destruction. A number of houses, about 40 or 50 in all, completely destroyed," he reported from Choker Kariz.

Local people say up to 90 people died - almost the entire village population.

"The evidence we were shown was extremely powerful and it leads us to conclude that this was a very serious blunder on the part of the United States," said our correspondent.

A detailed examination of the scene revealed no evidence that the village might have been used by Taleban fighters or any other reason for it to have been targeted.

Opposition denial

The US is believed to have about 100 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, liaising with the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance and identifying targets.

Taleban fighters
The Taleban says it beat back an opposition offensive
Turkey, Nato's only Muslim member state, announced plans on Thursday to send 90 members of its special forces to support the opposition troops.

The Taleban say they beat off the first co-ordinated air and ground offensive, repulsing an assault by the Northern Alliance in the key valley of Dara-e-Souf after intense US bombing.

"Opposition forces failed to advance an inch," a Taleban spokesman was quoted by the French news agency AFP as saying.

But the Northern Alliance has denied launching any assault.

For its part the US dismissed a Taleban report that they had captured up to 40 US servicemen in Afghanistan.

The US Defence Department told the BBC that the ruling militia had produced no proof.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Adams
"The effects of carpet-bombing are devastating"
The BBC's Jonathan Marcus
"What's not clear is if this is a prelude to some concerted Northern Alliance offensive"
See also:

01 Nov 01 | Americas
Profile: B-52 bomber
29 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Who is winning the war?
28 Oct 01 | Middle East
Rumsfeld: Iraq may be target
01 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN warns of aid shortfall
01 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rain heralds Afghan winter
31 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan settlement 'will take time'
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