US claims great number of Taleban casualties. Taleban declare opposition offensive rapidly beaten back.
The New York Times quoted eyewitnesses who claimed to have heard a number of helicopters flying over the Taleban front line north of Kabul, followed by a series of explosions. The Pentagon claims to have eliminated a Taleban line of defence dug in to their trench.
There is speculation that in the run-down to Ramadan, the Pentagon is changing its strategy due to the growing list of complaints about the deaths of civilians. With helicopter gun-ships replacing high-altitude bombing raids, collateral damage will be easier to avoid. However, days after stating “We must be more careful”, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared on November 5th, “I don’t think there has ever been such an effective and precise bombing campaign”.
Not everyone agrees. Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes considered the high-bombing campaign to date “a waste of explosives”, since most of the bombs fell on empty mountain-sides.
Meanwhile ferocious fighting is taking place around Mazar-i-Sharif between the Taleban and the Northern Alliance forces. Taleban Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, said the Northern Alliance attack was “soon beaten back” in a counter offensive which killed 35 of their soldiers.
Some Northern alliance commanders complain that they do not have enough munitions or equipment to launch a final attack on Kabul or Mazar-i-Sharif and point out that the snow is already 1 metre deep in the highlands. Others claim “We are ready to attack, but this depends on our strategy and the circumstances”, according to General Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Defence Minister of the exiled Afghan government.
Parallel to the military operations in the field, the world’s diplomatic circuit has never been so bust since the Cuban Missile Crisis, with Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf shuttling between London, Paris and Washington.
Simultaneously, thousands of Pakistani tribesmen gather on the Afghan border, many armed with swords, to cross the frontier and link up in Taleban lines with the 600 British Moslems who are training in Mujaheddin camps, hoping for a chance to fight their compatriots.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru