Los Angeles Times

Paul Wong
Relatives mourn over the body of Mohamed Rasul, 55, who was killed by a rocket launched by the Taliban which hit a market in Charikar, northern Afghanistan, 30 km (19 miles) north of the capital Kabul yesterday.<br><br>AP PHOTO

CHARIKAR, Afghanistan Unbowed by limited U.S. airstrikes, Taliban troops fired rockets from their mountain hide-outs into the middle of a crowded noontime bazaar here yesterday, killing a poor, legless tea seller and a prosperous shopkeeper.

The Afghan men died as the airstrikes set off new clashes between the opposition Northern Alliance and the Taliban regime, which is still a powerful enemy after more than two weeks of bombing.

The recent airstrikes on the front line north of Kabul, the Afghan capital, are often described as intense and relentless outside the country, but to Afghans hardened by almost 23 years of war, they are intermittent pinpricks. Bombing raids that began along the front line closest to Kabul on Sunday usually last less than an hour and have occurred only twice a day, at most. That leaves the Taliban troops plenty of time to regroup and take out their revenge on Afghan civilians, said Bari Yali, a shop owner who survived the attack on Charikar.

“As long as the Taliban are in these mountains, they will continue to attack us,” Yali, 30, said as he stood next to a small crater that a rocket had dug in a narrow dirt alley. “They attacked Charikar because the Americans bombed them. If the American planes don”t bomb constantly, the Taliban will only fire at us more and more.”

Two U.S. warplanes returned around 3 p.m. yesterday to strike the Taliban front line, but after a few bombing runs, they were gone again, and there was no letup in the sporadic firing across the front line.

One of the jets fired off flares from the rear to confuse any heat-seeking missiles that the Taliban might fire. Opposition soldiers watching the attacks from the village of Sinjit Dara, near the Bagram air base, said the Taliban still has surface-to-air missiles in the area.

When warplanes came back around 6:40 p.m., they circled for several minutes, and as Taliban antiaircraft guns opened up, the jets left without counterattacking. They returned several times before midnight, with what sounded like a propeller-driven spotter plane to search for targets. But the jets didn”t drop any bombs.

Northern Alliance soldiers confirmed that at least two of the bombs dropped by U.S. F-18 fighter jets Monday afternoon fell in its territory, not the Taliban”s. Although no one was injured, several Northern Alliance troops were almost hit, soldiers said in interviews.

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