Byline: CHRIS STEPHEN
I WATCHED as the attack towards Kabul began today with a furious bombardment of Taliban lines by artillery, rockets and mortars.
It was backed by B52s carpet-bombing positions close to the front line.
Thousands of infantry, plus tanks and armoured personnel carriers of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance are massed along the front awaiting the order to advance.
The bombardment came amid claims by opposition forces that they were attacking Taliban lines outside the city. "We are at the gate of Kabul," said senior opposition spokesman Bismillah Khan.
The advance towards Kabul comes as the Northern Alliance claims to be in control of about 40 per cent of Afghanistan. The US administration will be watching events nervously as Washington has signalled it does not want the Alliance to fight its way into Kabul.
Standing on a small, dusty hill at the frontline village of Rabat, I had a panoramic view of the battle now raging. The line in front of me, stretching in a five mile arc centred on this village, is continually erupting in a mass of flame and smoke. All around me mortars and multiple barrelled rockets hammered away. Further back the big howitzers of the Northern Alliance sent shells howling overhead.
Far away to the left came the detonations of artillery hitting Taliban positions around Bagram airport to the north of Kabul. To the right, hilltop positions were receiving the same treatment.
And in front of me a mass of explosives hammered Taliban trenches on either side of a row of trees. Every gun the Northern Alliance possesses appears to be engaged, the fields all around echoing to their bangs and thuds.
And the whole front is on the move. Roads and lanes are filling with tanks and infantry and support vehicles, with hundreds of villagers coming out to watch in the hot sun. Then came a B52.
Throughout the early afternoon it had been circling, but not bombing. Now it made its bombing run.
The bombs exploded perhaps a mile away in a great long, boiling eruption.
All the other guns on the plain stopped firing, their crews presumably as awestruck as the soldiers around me as the thunderclap multiple detonations rolled around us.
Back along the Salang Highway tanks and armoured personnel carriers are parked in columns along the side of the road.
Further up are troops of the Zarbati, or "shock" brigade, standing around in their new camouflage uniforms. "We have orders to go in and clear some villages ahead of us, the ones that guard the highway," said one commander, Captain Mohammed.
As I stood talking to him he raised his radio high into the air so his men could hear, and broadcast at top volume what I can only describe as the sound of fear. He had tuned into a Taliban frequency. The sound of frenzied jabbering voices came crackling out.
The handful of Captain Mohammed's soldiers who could understand Pashtun nodded solemnly. "They are frightened," said the captain.
"Those guys have lost their morale. They are asking, "please, what are our orders, what should we do? …