U.S., Britain strike against Afghanistan

Cargo planes airdrop 37,500 packets of food, medicine for refugees

War On Terrorism

Military Response

October 08, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The nighttime barrage from U.S. and British aircraft and ships directed yesterday at Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia and Osama Bin Laden's terrorist training camps started what officials said would be a prolonged counterattack against terrorism.

Even as the airstrikes continued, two C-17 cargo planes left Ramstein Air Base in Germany and lumbered toward southwestern Afghanistan, dropping 37,500 packets of food and medicine in an area where thousands of refugees have fled.

In a sign of the Pentagon's wariness of the Taliban's air defenses, the C-17s flew at altitudes so high that their crew members risked suffering the bends.

Officials said the meals, known as Humanitarian Daily Rations, were vegetarian and tailored to the Muslim diet, which does not allow pork.

Through the night, dozens of sites were attacked by 15 land-based Air Force bombers, 25 Navy carrier-based attack aircraft, five Navy ships that launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and a British submarine that also fired cruise missiles, Pentagon officials said.

The bombings are expected to last into the week and are designed to punish and weaken the Taliban for harboring bin Laden, to cripple his terrorist network and to make the skies safe for airdropping humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, officials said.

"It is not yet over. To achieve the outcomes we seek, it is important to go after the air defense and Taliban aircraft," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who appeared at a Pentagon news conference with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We need the freedom to operate on the ground or in the air," Rumsfeld said. "And the targets selected, if successfully destroyed, should permit an increasing degree of freedom over time."

The attacks began about 9:30 p.m. in Kabul, the Afghan capital. In addition to the terrorist camps, they centered on the Taliban's radar, surface-to-air missiles sites, anti-aircraft artillery, aging Soviet-era warplanes, and command and control facilities. Further attacks this week are expected to focus on Taliban forces, their tanks and personnel carriers.

CNN showed flashes of light from Taliban anti-aircraft artillery in the night sky above Kabul. And Afghans on the ground reported that the allied strikes hit sites throughout the country. Among them was the airport in Kabul, where warplanes are stationed; aircraft and radar in the southern city of Qandahar, where the Taliban has its government and military headquarters; the airport in the eastern city of Jalalabad; terrorist bases in the eastern city of Khowst; a fuel storage facility in Herat; and a remote airbase in the western city of Shindand.

Rumsfeld said the allied attacks were to show the Taliban that harboring terrorists "carries a price" and to acquire additional intelligence for "future operations" against the Taliban and al-Qaida, bin Laden's terrorist network.

"This effort will continue in a variety of different ways over a sustained period of time and ... we intend to pursue it until such time as we're satisfied that those terrorist networks don't exist, that they have been destroyed," he said.

The combined U.S. and British action was also meant to "alter the military balance over time" by allowing anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan to exploit a weakened foe, Rumsfeld said. The defense secretary would not say whether any U.S. ground troops would take part in the operation that began yesterday or link up with the Northern Alliance, the main rebel group fighting the Taliban.

Said Myers, who took over the Pentagon's top uniformed post last week, "I want to remind you today that while today's operations are visible, many other operations may not be so visible."

There were no U.S. casualties or aircraft struck by the Taliban air defenses, officials said. Rumsfeld said it would take days before it is known whether the attacks were successful. He also said the attacks were not aimed specifically at bin Laden, whom the U.S. has called the prime suspect in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11 and in previous terrorist incidents.

"This is not about a single individual. It's about an entire terrorist network and multiple terrorist networks around the globe," he said.

While Rumsfeld declined to say how long the bombing campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida camps would last, Pentagon officials said "it will go on several days, maybe a week." The precision weaponry used yesterday will eventually give way to 500-pound gravity bombs designed to take out the Taliban's armor and damage the mountain strongholds where bin Laden and his network are thought to be hiding. "Making caves shudder," said one military officer.

A Pentagon official said Taliban forces were "on the move" even before the attacks but declined to discuss their precise locations. Rumsfeld said it was "too early to know" if there was any response from the Taliban military.

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