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Afghanistan: U.S. Begins Daylight Strikes

The U.S.-led air assault on Taliban and suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan is continuing, with daylight raids reported in Kandahar and Kabul. Four Afghans working for a United Nations-funded de-mining organization were killed when a bomb struck the organization's offices in Kabul. The raids sparked violent protests in some mostly Muslim countries, including neighboring Pakistan and in Indonesia. But China and Australia weighed in with pledges of support for the operation.

Prague, 9 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. is continuing its assault on Taliban and terrorist targets in Afghanistan today, launching cruise missiles and other ordnance following two nights of bombardment.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel George Rhynedance, indicated that the daylight raids were part of the U.S.-led campaign. He added that since the first strikes on 7 October, "there has not been a break in the operations."

Reports from Afghanistan say air strikes continued into the daylight hours today as jets bombed the southern city of Kandahar. Explosions were also reported in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Taliban soldiers responded with anti-aircraft fire.

Officials say the raids are focusing on anti-aircraft positions, command control and leadership targets, as well as suspected terrorist camps.

The bombardment was accompanied by another airdrop of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.

The initial strikes on 7 October involved both U.S. and British forces employing long-range bombers and submarine- and ship-launched cruise missiles. Twenty people were reported by the Taliban to have been killed in the strikes on Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad, but that figure could not be confirmed.

The attacks last night were reportedly smaller in scope than the first night's (7 October) bombardments, and involved only U.S. forces. Reports say 15 ship-launched cruise missiles, five long-range bombers, and 10 sea-launched warplanes were used to strike targets in Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The Pentagon said all planes returned safely.

The United Nations says four Afghan civilians died when a missile struck the building of a UN-funded de-mining agency overnight. The four were guards employed by an agency called the Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC).

UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker today confirmed the casualties:

"At nine o'clock last night in Kabul, an office of the non-governmental organization Afghan Technical Consultants was hit during the bombardment of Kabul. The building was destroyed. Four staff members of the ATC were killed. They'd worked directly with the United Nations. Pieces of their bodies are still to be recovered from the wreckage."

The raids also reportedly struck the house of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in Kandahar. Taliban officials say Omar survived the attack.

The strikes sparked a second day of sometimes-violent anti-American protests in mostly Muslim countries.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse some 400 protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.

The group earlier rallied outside the UN building also in Jakarta.

Pakistani police clashed for a second day with protesters not far from the city of Quetta, near the Afghan border. Reports said three people were killed and two injured. At least one person was killed yesterday in riots in Quetta.

Pakistani also authorities detained three pro-Taliban Islamic party leaders.

In the Philippines, several thousand Muslims staged a march in southern Marawi City. In Oman, some 200 students staged anti-U.S. protests for a second day in the capital, Muscat.

Elsewhere, countries continued to pledge support for the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism formed in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

State media in China says President Jiang Zemin offered unspecified cooperation with the U.S. in a telephone call with U.S. President George W. Bush. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Sun Yuxi, says China has temporarily closed its border with Afghanistan as a security measure:

"In order to maintain the stability and safety of the Chinese border areas, the Chinese government temporarily closed the border between China and Afghanistan yesterday, on 8 October 2001."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says his country's forces are ready to join in the strikes and are awaiting a call from Washington. Australia has offered 150 elite commandos, refueling and surveillance aircraft, and a troop carrier.

The European Union, as well as Japan and Russia, have all pledged support for the operation.

It's not clear how long the strikes can continue before the number of Afghan military targets or suspected terrorist camps is exhausted.

In London last night, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the air strikes are likely to last "a matter of days rather than weeks." This followed other reports that the strikes could go on indefinitely. Hoon is in Moscow today for talks on the crisis with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in an interview last night, did not comment on the expected length of the operation, but said it is part of a larger effort aimed at stamping out terrorism.

"These strikes are part of a much larger effort against worldwide terrorism, one that will be sustained and which is wide-ranging. It will likely be sustained for a period of years, not weeks or months. "This campaign will be waged much like the Cold War, in the sense that it will involve many fronts over a period of time and will require continuous pressure by a large number of countries around the globe."

"The New York Times" today quotes a senior U.S. military official as saying the current bombing campaign may last no more than a few days.

The United States raised the prospect yesterday that the counter-terrorism attacks may be extended beyond Afghanistan. The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, said in a letter to the UN Security Council that Washington reserves the right to take further military action against organizations or states linked to terrorist attacks.

It isn't immediately clear if the Pentagon intends to target other countries suspected of sponsoring terrorism, such as Iraq.

It's also not yet clear whether ground troops will eventually be used in Afghanistan after the initial air offensive is finished. Hoon yesterday said ground forces are being considered as one of a range of options.

"It is perfectly possible that the impact of these initial strikes and the ones that are likely to follow will have such a seriously destabilizing impact on the Taliban regime that the use of ground troops may not be possible, certainly not in a hostile environment. But, obviously, we are preparing a range of military options and the use of ground troops is clearly one of them."

"The Washington Post" today cites unnamed defense officials as saying the Pentagon plans to send more ground troops to the Mideast and Central Asia for the second phase of the military campaign. The paper says this could start as soon as the end of this week. The officials add, however, that this deployment would not be a prelude to a full-scale conventional ground attack. The report could not be independently confirmed.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.