US-British Forces Launch Air Strikes against Afghanistan; Kabul, Other Cities Bombed; Bin Laden Alive, Says Taliban
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AFP) - The United States launched its long-anticipated military strikes on Afghanistan, raining missiles and bombs on Kabul's Taliban regime and sparking protests Monday by Islamist groups across Asia.
Governments around the world - and in particular the United States - nervously boosted security as the assault on Afghanistan heightened fears of revenge attacks.
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, erstwhile backer of the Taliban and the only country to still recognize the regime, warned that Afghanistan could be plunged once again into anarchy.
Explosions rocked Kabul and other Taliban strongholds as US and British forces exacted military reprisals for the bloody terrorist attacks on the United States that claimed 5,500 lives last month.
More than 20 people were killed in Kabul as a result of the strikes, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency reported.
Taliban air defenses, airfields, communications and radar facilities were targeted, as were camps used by Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and his alQaeda network, blamed for the Sept. 11 terror onslaught.
Bin Laden and his protector, Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, both survived the attacks, a spokesman here for the Kabul regime said.
The Taliban remained defiant, describing the air strikes as "horrendous terrorist attacks," but denying that they had done any significant damage.
Bin Laden, in a prerecorded video message broadcast after the attacks, vowed that the United States "will never know security as long as Palestine does not know security."
"America has been hit by Allah at its most vulnerable point, destroying, thank God, its most prestigious buildings," Bin Laden said. "It has been filled with fear from north to south and from east to west."
A spokesman for the Northern Alliance, the armed opposition to the Taliban, said their forces were prepared to launch a ground assault against the ruling militia now that the US strikes had started.
US officials said Sunday's strikes were just the beginning.
"The battle is now joined on many fronts," US President George W. Bush said in a televised address shortly after the attack began. "We will not waver, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said "land and sea-based aircraft, surface ships, and submarines" took part in the strikes, which were designed to knock out enemy anti-aircraft weapons and planes threatening US forces.
French Defense Minister Alain Richard said the US appeared to have achieved its initial objective, but that the US-led strikes would continue in the coming days.
US officials said the attack was led by at least 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from four US surface ships, and one US and one British submarine.
These were followed by strikes by about 15 land-based US B-1, B-52, B-2 stealth bombers, as well as 25 F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 fighters.
At the same time, two US Air Force C-17 transport planes dropped food pallets to refugees inside the country, the officials said, while special forces aircraft dropped leaflets and made broadcasts explaining the operation to locals.
Afghan opposition sources said the targets in Kabul included the presidential palace, the national radio-television building, the airport and anti-aircraft installations east of the city.
Also reportedly hit, according to Afghan opposition sources, were the western city of Farah and the northern cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz.
Iran's official IRNA news agency said three US warplanes attacked the Shindand airbase in western Afghanistan, near the border with Iran.
Abdullah Abdullah, chief spokesman for the Northern Alliance, said the targets had been hit accurately in all cities and at least two terrorist training camps had been destroyed near Kabul and Kandahar. …