U.S. Warplanes Bomb Taliban Front Lines

JABAL SARAJ, Afghanistan?U.S. warplanes bombarded Taliban front lines, while the opposition pressed its attack Monday on three fronts near Mazar-e Sharif?but the rebel fighters conceded they were facing stiff Taliban resistance around the key northern city.

At the other main front, north of Kabul, deposed Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and other opposition leaders reviewed their troops at this dusty outpost and declared they would soon march on the capital, 45 miles away.

“You are bravely defending your country against the evil triangle of Pakistan, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden,” a senior commander, Bismillah Khan, told the fighters. The Afghan opposition has long been hostile to Pakistan, which?though now supporting the air campaign?was the Taliban’s staunchest ally until Sept. 11.

President Bush launched airstrikes against Afghanistan Oct. 7 after the ruling Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden for his alleged role in the September terrorist attacks in the United States.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, B 52 bombers and other U.S. warplanes hammered away at Taliban positions Monday near the southern city of Kandahar and outside the northern city of Taloqan, once the opposition’s capital but now held by the Taliban.

Despite the U.S. bombardment, fighters of the northern alliance have been unable to advance on the fronts outside Kabul or around Mazar-e-Sharif, where Taliban defenses are well outside the city.

On Monday, U.S. aircraft were heavily pounding Taliban positions around Mazar-e Sharif, an opposition spokesman said, while the rebel forces were struggling in a three-pronged offensive launched over the weekend in a bid to take the city before winter sets in.

The U.S. jets were flying in waves of four to six planes, spokesman Ashraf Nadeem said. “Every 15 minutes they are bombing,” he said. “They drop the bombs and then come back.”

Nadeem said one column led by Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum was making no progress. Another column regained several miles of territory lost to the Taliban and had cut the road from Mazar-e-Sharif to Sar-i-Pul, 80 miles to the southwest, he said.

Opposition leaders sought to inspire their troops and raise morale with Monday’s parade at Jabal Saraj. Opposition soldiers, decked out in fresh uniforms, shouted “God is great” as at least three U.S. bombs exploded on Taliban positions across the nearby Shomali plain.

Flags fluttered in the brisk wind and old Soviet tanks fired practice rounds into arid hillsides north of Kabul in a display of strength.

“Your jihad (holy war) is right,” Rabbani, the titular head of the northern alliance, told the troops. “You can save the world from terrorism.”

U.S. officials have confirmed sending more special forces into Afghanistan to help coordinate airstrikes and provide other assistance to the opposition.

As part of that effort, a team of five U.S. military personnel landed at a new airstrip in Golbahar, not far from the front line, “to help coordinate efforts in the war,” opposition interior minister Yunis Qanoni said. He said the men arrived Sunday from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, in a twin-engine plane. They were expected to study the new dirt landing strip to see if it’s ready to handle supplies.

The supply route for the northern alliance, which snakes through the formidable mountains from Tajikistan to the north, has already been snowed over.