Alliance Says Set to Break Front Lines

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Alliance Says Set to Break Front Lines

By Steven Gutkin Associated Press Writer

Thursday, Nov. 1, 2001; 10:22 a.m. EST

JABAL SARAJ, Afghanistan

Afghanistan's opposition alliance will be able to break the Taliban's front lines "within a few days" if the United States maintains its intense bombardments there, a senior alliance official said Thursday.

"Our forces will reach their highest level of preparation in a few days time," said Abdullah, the foreign minister of the opposition's government-in-exile. "Our forces are ready to break the front lines."

For the past 11 days, U.S. air attacks have shifted away from high-profile urban targets in favor of Taliban front line positions north of the capital, Kabul, and near the northern cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Taloqan.

Opposition leaders have been calling on the United States to increase the frequency and intensity of the front-line assaults. Some of the heaviest bombardment of Taliban front lines north of Kabul took place Wednesday. U.S. fighter jets were heard roaring over the Shomali plain where the front lines lie on Thursday as well.

Speaking to reporters in the opposition-held town of Jabal Saraj, Abdullah praised Wednesday's air raids, which for the first time included the use of B-52 bombers, as being "very effective."

He said 15 Taliban tanks were destroyed in five days of bombing along the front lines. He said U.S. jets on Wednesday hit a Taliban air base and ammunitions depot in the northern city of Kunduz, forcing the hardline Islamic militia to empty the depot and take its contents to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Alliance officials say they are preparing for an attack on Mazar-e-Sharif. Capturing the city would enable the northern alliance to cut Taliban supply lines to western Afghanistan and open routes to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to the north.

Overnight, U.S. jets struck a Taliban fuel and ammunition dump near opposition-controlled Bagram air base on the Kabul front, according to opposition spokesman Waisuddin Salik. Three fuel tanks and two trucks were destroyed, he said.

Despite the bombing, however, there was no sign Thursday that the opposition northern alliance was moving forward either around Kabul or in the other major front at Mazar-e-Sharif.

The Taliban, meanwhile, reported their forces had pushed back opposition attacks on their positions in the Dar-e-Suf district southeast of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The United States and its allies in the coalition against terrorism are hoping the outnumbered and outgunned alliance can make gains on the ground before the harsh Afghan winter takes hold in a few weeks.

On Thursday, Abdullah confirmed reports that the northern alliance is reinforcing its troop presence along the front lines in preparation for an advance, saying the buildup of troops "is in the thousands."

He also confirmed that Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, met Tuesday in Tajikistan with the opposition commander, Gen. Mohammad Fahim.

Abdullah said the meeting "went well" and that the two leaders discussed ways of improving coordination between the two sides. He gave no further details.

The Taliban are under U.S. attack as punishment for harboring Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaida terrorist network, accused of carrying out the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

-- PHO (owennos@bigfoot.com), November 01, 2001


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