Short demands early end to offensive as stray bomb hits Kabul homes

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The Independent Online

As American warplanes resumed the bombing campaign on Afghanistan with a vengeance last night, Britain's International Development Secretary, Clare Short, called in an interview with The Independent on Sunday for the bombing to be "brought to an elegant end as quickly as possible".

The new raids came after the Pentagon admitted that a "smart" bomb dropped over Kabul the night before missed its target by more than a mile and hit a residential area. One person was reported to have been killed and four others, including a child, injured. "We do not target civilians, and we regret any loss of innocent life," said a US military official.

The potentially disastrous error underlined the call by Ms Short, a member of Tony Blair's "War Cabinet", for the bombing to stop and humanitarian aid to start. Millions of Afghans could face starvation unless food trucks got through, she warned. The most outspoken opponent of widening the war in the Government, she added: "A lot of men go mad – it's all those toys they had as children."

But last night heavy explosions were reported at Kabul airport, rocking the city and creating a huge fireball. This appeared to indicate the use of fuel-air bombs, which create a blast over a wide area. Bombs were also reported to have hit Kandahar, site of the headquarters of the Taliban, and Taliban positions near the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The bombing followed the Taliban regime's rejection of a renewed invitation from President George Bush to hand over the suspected arch-terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, denounced the US-led attacks and insisted again that Mr bin Laden would not be surrendered.

Mr Bush yesterday declared the first phase of the military campaign against Mr bin Laden a success, saying that nearly a week of bombing had disrupted the Saudi-born militant's support networks in Afghanistan.

But it was disclosed that the British and American governments were rethinking their strategy for a post-Taliban Afghanistan. A secret Whitehall analysis has rejected the opposition Northern Alliance as the basis of a future government, and leaders in London and Washington are looking to the creation of an international protectorate in Afghanistan, possibly under UN auspices, when the Taliban are defeated.

In a flurry of diplomatic activity surrounding the military campaign, Downing Street announced that the head of the Palestinian authority, Yasser Arafat, will be visiting London tomorrow for talks, and the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is visiting India and Pakistan. Meanwhile the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, flies to Russia today in an effort to strengthen the anti-terrorist coalition.