Gunship joins as attacks enter 'new phase'

Elsewhere, Red Cross aid centre left ablaze after huge blasts near Kabul
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The Independent Online

Attacks against Afghanistan entered a new phase today, with the use of a slow-moving special forces AC-130 gunship for the first time to attack a Taliban stronghold near Kandahar.

Meanwhile an International Red Cross warehouse was ablaze after fierce daylight bombing at Khair Khana. Afghan workers struggled to salvage blankets, tents and medicine from the burning building. Witnesses said they saw several Taliban military trucks in the area.

A spokesman for the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance said the first phase of the war was over and that it would co-ordinate attacks with the US. His comments came after use of the US Air Force gunship and helicopters signalled a shift in focus from military targets to the Taliban leadership - increasing speculation that ground troops may be already at work inside Afghanistan.

The AC-130 turboprop airplane is used by American ground forces trained for small?unit operations in hostile country. It was the first acknowledged use of special?forces aircraft in the conflict.

Taliban Information Ministry official Abdul Himat said 13 civilians died in the pre-dawn assault at Kandahar.

Raids in the first nine days of the campaign targeted air defence and other military facilities with the purpose of making the skies safe for less agile aircraft like the AC-130, based on the Hercules troop transporter.

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said the front lines of battles between the Taliban militia and rebel forces won't be "a very safe place to be" for Taliban fighters.

Air strikes have targeted Taliban troop formations for several days and will focus more on front?line Taliban fighters once the Pentagon gets better information from rebel forces, Mr Rumsfeld said at a news conference.

¿ The Christian Aid charity today called on the UK and US to halt the bombing campaign temporarily to avoid a humanitarian crisis. It said an immediate pause in attacks would allow for the safe passage of aid before winter sets in and the roads became impassable, the agency said.