CHARIKAR, Afghanistan U.S. warplanes resumed heavy airstrikes yesterday against Taliban front-line positions north of Kabul and outside the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a day after secret talks between the Afghan opposition”s defense chief and the U.S. commander in charge of operations in Afghanistan.
Waves of bombing against Taliban targets about 25 miles north of Kabul sent huge clouds into the clear sky, as F/A-18 Hornet jets and at least one B-52 bomber returned repeatedly after three days of relative calm. The biggest explosions were believed to be from 1,000-pound bombs intended to pound Taliban bunkers near the front lines close to Bagram air base, six miles south of this opposition-held town.
Near Mazar-e-Sharif, where forces of the opposition Northern Alliance have been waging an intermittent offensive against Taliban soldiers in recent weeks, alliance fighters cheered yesterday”s heavy bombing by U.S. planes.
“This went very well. We liked this very much,” Kudratulla Umar, an officer with the Northern Alliance forces stalled about nine miles outside the key northern city, said by telephone.
Umar said alliance forces there are ready to try to capture the city, a decision reached by alliance generals in a strategy meeting last weekend. But he said they were waiting for a signal from the United States.
“We are ready to move toward Mazar-e-Sharif, but we are waiting for the Americans to say when to start,” Umar said.
The intensified U.S. bombing of Taliban front lines follows weeks of complaints by alliance officials that they had not gotten sufficient air support to allow their forces to advance.
According to a senior alliance official, the alliance”s defense chief, Gen. Mohammed Qassim Fahim, met Tuesday with Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, in Dushanbe, the capital of neighboring Tajikistan, to discuss closer cooperation between U.S. and alliance forces.
“Our side was happy,” the official said of the meeting”s outcome. “It was a venue to discuss broader strategy. It”s become more and more evident that we can play a major role.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, forecast an escalation of fighting around Mazar-e-Sharif that would include tighter coordination with U.S. forces.
“There could be tactical air support,” he said. “This could be one aspect of it.”
Since the start of the U.S. bombing campaign Oct. 7, “a better understanding has been created between us, but it still needs some improvement,” the official said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday confirmed previous reports from the field that U.S. troops are working with the Northern Alliance groups, saying the “modest number” of troops were helping direct airstrikes and arrange logistical support.