Bombers fly round trips from US

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The United States and Britain launched 50 cruise missiles against terrorist targets inside Afghanistan in an attack that also involved the most sophisticated warplanes in the American arsenal, Pentagon officials said.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 15 bombers and 25 strike aircraft, both sea and land-based, launched the missiles at 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT, 11:00 p.m. in Kabul) - darkness in Afghanistan. He termed the strike "the early stages of ongoing combat operations" against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the al-Qaida network.

In a briefing at the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it was too early to judge the success of the missions, begun slightly less than four weeks after the worst terrorist attacks in American history. He said there was no indication that any American plane had been damaged.

Rumsfeld said the campaign "is continuous".

Myers, sworn into office less than a week ago, said the attacks included B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers as well as ships and submarines in the region. He said the B-2s flew roundtrip from their base at Whitman Air Force Base in Missouri.

Rumsfeld said an initial goal of the strikes was to render air defenses ineffective and to wipe out the military aircraft of the Taliban, rulers of Afghanistan. The Taliban are known to have a small inventory of surface to air missiles.

Rumsfeld also said that allied forces were already dropping humanitarian supplies to the people of Afghanistan. He said that 37,500 rations were planned to be dropped on the first day.

"We support the Afghan people against the al-Qaida, a foreign presence in their lands, and the Taliban regime that supports them," he said.