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Wednesday October 10 12:13 PM ET
Taliban Backs Down From Earlier Bin Laden Statement
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S. warplanes pounded the Afghan capital for a fourth night Wednesday just after the ruling Taliban retreated from earlier remarks and insisted it had not lifted curbs on the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden.
Anti-aircraft fire lit up the sky over Kabul and four warplanes screamed over the city just before seven explosions rocked the city, witnesses said. Residents prepared for another night of terror.
``We have permitted Osama bin Laden only to issue statements,'' Minister for Education Amir Khan Muttaqi said in a statement reported by the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP).
``There is still a ban on Osama using Afghan soil for acts against any other country,'' he was quoted as saying.
That marked a retreat from remarks just hours earlier by Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen who told the BBC's Pashto language service that the strikes had made it an obligation for all Muslims to wage jihad (holy war) against America.
Mutmaen said Saudi-born millionaire bin Laden -- who the Taliban had previously said was under strict supervision with communications cut and his activities curtailed -- was now free to operate as he wanted.
Whatever bin Laden's status, Afghanistan began to count the toll from four nights of raids. AIP and officials said at least 76 people had been killed nationwide and 100 injured.
Figures compiled from the major cities hit in the U.S. air raids showed 28 dead in the southern city of Kandahar, headquarters of the ruling Taliban, and 25 in Kabul, AIP said.
The figures showed six dead in the eastern city of Jalalabad, two dead in western Herat, eight killed in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and seven in western Farah province where the strategic Shindand air field is located.
Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef breathed defiance Wednesday, dismissing U.S. reports that its planes now had full command of the skies over the rugged and landlocked country that has proved a graveyard for many foreign land armies.
``It is not true. American planes are flying very high ... and are out of range,'' he said.
Zaeef said no harm had come to bin Laden or his protector, Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the hard-line Islamic movement.
But six civilians, including an elderly woman and her two daughters, were killed in strikes late Tuesday on the outskirts of Jalalabad, a town surrounded by several of bin Laden's training camps.
Two young women and two young girls were injured by shrapnel from a U.S. bomb dropped in a pre-dawn air raid on the eastern outskirts of Kabul, witnesses said.
But the Taliban remained unbowed. Zaeef said they had seen no evidence that bin Laden's al Qaeda group was a terrorist network.
A spokesman for bin Laden and the group -- blamed by the United States for the devastating September 11 suicide plane attacks on New York and Washington -- earlier said it was every Muslim's duty to fight against the Americans.
``STORM OF PLANES WILL NOT STOP''
``Americans should know, the storm of the planes will not stop,'' al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Bu Ghaith said in a video statement broadcast by Qatar's Al Jazeera television early on Wednesday.
``American interests are spread everywhere in the world. Every Muslim should carry out his full role toward his nation and his religion. Terrorism against oppressors is a belief in our religion and our teachings.''
The Taliban have vowed revenge for the air raids, saying they were ready to sacrifice over two million Afghan lives in a jihad against what they call U.S. terrorism.
``As long as America is shedding the blood of Afghans it will not be beneficial to America ... If America is continuing attacks on Afghanistan it will also not be safe,'' Zaeef, the Taliban's only voice to the outside world, said in the Pakistani capital.
The Taliban were still able to defend themselves, he said.
The Taliban have anti-aircraft guns positioned at key spots in its major towns and cities though they are ineffective against high-flying bombers. Zaeef said the air defenses were neither sophisticated nor modern.
Attempts by the allies ranged against the Taliban to win over the Afghan people were having scant success, officials said.
They reported protests in the provinces of Ghazni, Herat and Paktia against a message from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, broadcast on the BBC's Pashto language service, in which he said the West would not abandon the Afghan people again.
``They are helping to murder our fathers and sons, widow our women and make orphans of our children and destroy Islam,'' an Information Ministry official told Reuters.
In eastern Khost province, residents burned food aid dropped from the air by U.S. planes Tuesday, he said.
In Kabul, residents tried to go about their normal business, even after Washington said it now commanded the skies and could attack around the clock.
``We want a peaceful Afghanistan,'' said a shoeshine boy.
``We are unhappy about the attacks. Americans say that they are not targeting people, but people are hit and are on the run. We have not slept for the past three nights because of fear of the attacks,'' he said.
CLAIMS OF GAINS
The opposition Northern Alliance appeared to be trying to take advantage of the attacks. It said Tuesday it had seized control of the only remaining north-south highway after persuading 40 Taliban commanders and their 1,200 fighters to switch sides.
If confirmed, the defections would deal a severe blow to the Taliban, who came to power in Kabul in 1996 and are now under attack from inside and out.
The Taliban dismissed the claims.
The fourth night of President Bush's war on terrorism began shortly before the evening curfew took effect, with warplanes and cruise missiles roaring over the mountainous country through the clear night sky.
In Washington, U.S. defense officials said the raids had so far achieved all objectives and military sources said the operation was now likely to move into its next phase -- possibly including ground forces.
That scenario is likely to appeal more to bin Laden, whose personal fortune and charisma have provided the Taliban with thousands of zealous foreign Muslim fighters and guaranteed their sanctuary.
Taliban authorities said Wednesday they would charge a French reporter and his two Pakistani guides with spying, saying his satellite telephone and tape recorders were espionage tools.
Michel Peyrard, 44, a reporter for the French weekly Paris Match, was wearing a traditional all-encompassing woman's burqa when arrested near Jalalabad.
British reporter Yvonne Ridley arrived in Pakistan on Monday after spending 10 days in a Kabul jail following her capture in similar disguise. She too had originally been accused of spying.
-- Anonymous, October 10, 2001