1,100 buoy Kabul forces

Fresh troops sent by Taliban said to be non-Afghan recruits

New bin Laden tape aired

`Infidels' assailed

Rumsfeld visits allied leaders in area

War On Terrorism

November 04, 2001|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- In response to an expanded American bombing campaign that for five days straight has produced repeated strikes by B-52s and fighter jets, the Taliban have sent in hundreds of fresh troops to man critical front-line positions north of Kabul, opposition commanders said yesterday.

The reports of Taliban reinforcements came as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited the region yesterday to shore up support for U.S. operations, and as suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden lashed out at Arab leaders, saying in a new video recording that support for the United States amounted to a renunciation of Islam.

In Afghanistan, Mir Rahman, deputy commander of the Bagram District for the Northern Alliance, said that in the past few days 500 Taliban troops had arrived east of Bagram air base, while another 600 had arrived to the west, near the Old Kabul Road. Most of those troops, he said, were Pakistani and Arab volunteers who are fighting in support of the Taliban's strict Islamic fundamentalist regime.

The claims could not be verified. But if they are true, they represent a substantial strengthening of the Taliban forces along this front -- despite the United States' recent decision to use intensive airstrikes to help the Northern Alliance against the main defenses of Afghanistan's capital.

The shift in strategy meant that American pilots went from dropping perhaps a dozen bombs a day from small fighter aircraft to repeatedly striking targets with B-52s, some carrying loads of 50 bombs each. These strikes yesterday produced earth-shaking explosions that sent twisting sheets of smoke and dust hundreds of feet high.

Along the Bagram front, Rahman estimated, American warplanes have destroyed about 10 tanks since the first attacks on Oct. 21. If so, the Taliban have lost a significant proportion of their armor. According to one recent report, the Taliban had 24 tanks in the area as of three weeks ago. Fourteen pieces of artillery were also destroyed, he said.

As fighting continued, Rumsfeld visited with U.S. allies in the region on a whirlwind diplomatic tour.

Stopping first in Russia, Rumsfeld and Russian officials indicated progress in one area of their talks on arms control -- weapons reductions -- but signaled no breakthrough on U.S. plans to build a new missile shield.

Although a deal on the missile issue appeared unlikely, Rumsfeld and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, stressed the points they have in common and tried to gloss over differences. Neither offered any specifics on arms control gains. However, a senior White House official told the Associated Press earlier that an agreement providing arms cuts of about two-thirds of the arsenal was on the negotiating table, with each country limiting itself to no more than 1,750 to 2,250 warheads.

Rumsfeld expressed U.S. gratitude for Russia's "fine cooperation" in the anti-terrorism campaign following the Sept. 11 attacks. Ivanov said that he and Rumsfeld had discussed additional, "concrete forms of assistance."

"As for improvement in cooperation, we have certain resources here that we can use ... but since they relate to our special services you will understand that I cannot tell you more about that," the Russian defense minister said.

Rumsfeld's next stop was Tajikistan, where the government agreed to consider how to increase its help to the U.S.-led campaign. Rumsfeld said yesterday he had not reached a deal on military cooperation with the country, which shares a long border with Afghanistan.

In the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, Rumsfeld said after an hourlong meeting with President Emomali Rakhmonov and several top officials that the sides would form an "assessment team" to look into ways in which Tajikistan could assist in the U.S.-led campaign.

When asked by reporters whether there was a deal on military cooperation with Tajikistan, Rumsfeld said "No."

Rumsfeld then went on to neighboring Uzbekistan, his second visit in a month. He was expected to meet today with President Islam Karimov.

New reports said Washington wants to persuade Uzbekistan to provide more bases for the U.S.-led military campaign. While Tajikistan has shown reluctance to play host to U.S. troops, Uzbekistan has provided a base for an estimated 1,000 U.S. soldiers.

As Rumsfeld continued his efforts, bin Laden broke his silence to condemn Arab leaders who turned to the United Nations for peace negotiations.

"They are infidels," bin Laden said in videotape broadcast by the Arab news network Al-Jareeza. "Those who claim they are the leaders of Arabs and are still in the United Nations have renounced the message of Muhammad. Those who resort to international legitimacy are renouncing the legitimacy of the holy book and the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.

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