US jets attack front line

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The Independent Online

US fighter jets roared high over the front line where Taliban forces face opposition fighters north of the Afghan capital on Monday, dropping bombs behind the Taliban's lines.

American planes are also reported to have attacked an alleged hideout of Osama bin Laden, two people are believed to have been killed.

The scream of the jets could be heard over the Shomali plain, north of Kabul, intermittently throughout the afternoon. In addition to Monday's raids, US jets bombarded the Taliban front lines overnight, said Mir Rahman, the deputy brigade commander of northern alliance forces based at the Bagram airport, about 35 miles north of Kabul.

A cloud of dust covered the plain, making visibility on the ground difficult. Taliban forces fired anti–aircraft guns, and there were sporadic fire exchanges between the Islamic militia and forces of the opposition northern alliance.

"I could hear the bombing north of Kabul in the distance and I could feel the ground shake," northern alliance fighter Abdul Same, 22, said of Monday's action.

Afghan officials praised the United States for stepping up its air strikes against Taliban front–line positions, saying victory can be achieved sooner if similar assaults continue.

Rahman said many Taliban artillery pieces were destroyed, but noted that the raids did not seem to make a significant difference. The opposition could advance on the capital Kabul if Washington kept up constant bombardment of the entire Taliban front line, he said.

"We are not happy about America's raids," he said. "If America kept up very intensive bombardment for five days and nights then you would see what we are made of."

Allah Mohammed, a 24–year–old alliance commander who is in charge of about 100 men deployed 300 meters (yards) from the Taliban positions, said the raids did not appear to have shaken the Taliban's morale.

"On the front line, there are a lot of (Taliban) troops now," said Mohammed, who reported an intense exchange of rockets, mortar shells and gunfire in recent days. "They are as strong as ever."

Calls for stepped–up air raids also came from Abdul Vadud, military attache at the opposition–controlled Afghan Embassy in the Tajik capital Dushanbe. He said alliance forces needed air support to advance on the strategic northern town of Mazar–e–Sharif.

"The US and allied command has been given data about the deployment of the Taliban garrison in Mazar–e–Sharif, their firing outposts and weapons and ammunition depots," he said late Sunday.

Vadud said the alliance plans to start a decisive operation to capture the town within two–three days so as to complete the offensive by the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in mid–November. One wing of opposition forces is 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles) from the city in the airport area and another 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the airport, he said.

Vadud also claimed that some 100 Taliban fighters were killed and more than 20 were captured in fighting over the weekend.

Alliance forces have been beaten back from Mazar–e–Sharif in recent fighting by the heavily armed Taliban units there, and many experts have doubts about their ability to seize the city. Some alliance officials have said the city was unlikely to fall soon.

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