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Friday, May 24, 2024

Bin Laden exults over Sept. 11 attacks in videotaped speech

TOBDARA, Afghanistan'U.S. and British warplanes and cruise missiles streaked across a clear, moonlit sky to deliver strikes on Taliban military targets Sunday night in the capital of Kabul and the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, focusing on anti-aircraft defenses, command centers and air bases.  




The white flash of explosions and red traces of artillery fire could be seen from this mountainside village of mud houses overlooking the front lines north of Kabul. The artillery fire came from opposition fighters aiming at Taliban positions near the air base at Bagram, 25 miles north of Kabul.  




Louder explosions echoed from beyond the mountain in the direction of Kabul, and the sky was illuminated with red sparkles resembling fireworks as Taliban anti-aircraft batteries attempted to shoot down U.S. and British aircraft. 




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The opposition, a loose coalition of often fractious ethnic groups known as the Northern Alliance, received advance warning of Sunday's attacks and was preparing to move on Kabul in the coming days. Opposition forces began evacuating two small villages near the front line north of Kabul Sunday in anticipation of fighting Monday morning. Several dozen people were gathering their belongings and heading up the road to the next town, Charikar, in a middle-of-the-night escape.  




In an effort to help the alliance, American forces attacked a concentration of Taliban tanks near the northern battleground city of Mazar-e Sharif, where a key opposition commander, Gen. Abdulrashid Dostum, has been fighting the Taliban, according to a Pentagon official. Rebel leaders said they captured the city of Samanghan in northern Afghanistan Sunday evening, and that Dostum's forces had surrounded Mazar-e Sharif.  




In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Mohammed Hasham Saad, a top Northern Alliance official, said American attacks were launched against several targets in Mazar-e Sharif, including the airport, as well as at headquarters of two Taliban divisions, and that Dostum was preparing a major offensive against Taliban positions in the coming days. 




Following the first wave of bombs and cruise missiles, Taliban ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef told reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan, that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden were still alive. Bin Laden and his al Qaeda network have been identified by the United States and Britain as the organizers of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. 




Sunday night's aerial assault began after dark, at about 8:45 p.m. U.S. and British forces aimed initially at targets in Kandahar, the heart of the Taliban movement in southern Afghanistan. The first explosions to hit Kandahar destroyed the city's electrical grid, plunging the city into darkness and chaos, according to Pakistani authorities monitoring events through eyewitnesses. 




Within minutes the city streets erupted in gunfire as hundreds of armed residents and Taliban soldiers began firing indiscriminately, apparently believing a ground assault had been launched against the city, they said. Missiles also hit a guesthouse compound used by Omar to receive official visitors, the witnesses said.  




Also targeted in the early strikes was the Kandahar airport, where U.S. and British forces destroyed the control tower and radar facilities. A second wave of attacks struck the Taliban national headquarters in downtown Kandahar as well. 






As the first U.S. missiles fell on Afghanistan Sunday, Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden defiantly showed his face to the world, exulting in a video over the destruction of the World Trade Center and urging Muslims everywhere to join in war against the United States.  




Dressed in camouflage fatigues and flanked by a rifle, he took no explicit responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks, but thanked God that the United States' 'greatest buildings were destroyed' and that America is 'full of fear, from its north to its south, from its west to its east.' 




Bin Laden has been in hiding since last month's attacks; the video appeared to have been filmed at the mouth of a cave before Sunday's airstrikes. It was delivered by a messenger to the Afghan office of the Arab satellite television service al-Jazeera shortly after the first bombs fell.  




In the video, bin Laden addresses Americans directly with a chilling threat of future attacks. But his message also seemed calculated to appeal to Muslims beyond his close supporters by casting his cause as the defense of Islam against an 'infidel' attack.  




'What America is tasting now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years,' he said, vowing that the United States would know no security 'before we live it in Palestine, and not before all the infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him.'  




'It's the strongest sign yet of bin Laden's desperation,' said Yosri Fouda, London bureau chief of al-Jazeera. 'He seems to sense that his enemies are closing in on him.'  




Many close observers of bin Laden's career believe he is probably resigned to his own death at the hands of American enemies, a death he views as an opportunity for glorious martyrdom. In the past, he has warned that his own destruction would merely spawn a new generation of Islamic extremists. 






Sunday's airstrikes on Afghanistan are only the opening phase of a 'sustained, comprehensive and relentless' military campaign against Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and its Taliban protectors, President Bush said.  




In a televised speech from the White House announcing the attacks, Bush described them as 'carefully targeted,' but made it clear that the overall strategic parameters of the campaign would be wide-ranging in nature.  




'Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader,' the president said. 'The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail.' 




The initial objective of the campaign, Bush said, was to destroy the training camps, communications facilities and command structure of the al Qaeda network that bin Laden leads. But that goal, he said, was a way station on the way to a broader one.  




'Initially, the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places,' he said. 'Our military action is also designed to clear the way for ... operations to drive them out and bring them to justice.'  




As for Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, Bush said, they have known for more than two weeks the price of peace with the United States: The closing of terrorist training camps, the handover of al Qaeda leaders and the release of all foreign nationals detained in Afghanistan.  




'None of these demands were met,' he said. 'And now the Taliban will pay a price.'  




Finally, Bush left open the possibility that the Taliban regime might not be the only target for military action. 'Every nation has a choice to make,' he said. 'In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.' 




The president did not identify whom he might have in mind. But other administration officials have mused about the possibility that an old U.S. adversary, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, might have had a hand in the Sept. 11 attacks. 






Along with cruise missiles and bombs, U.S. forces began dropping food and medicine Sunday across famine-stricken Afghanistan in the beginning stages of a larger humanitarian operation.  




About 37,500 individual Humanitarian Daily Rations were dropped by cargo planes across rugged areas of Afghanistan. Leaflets explaining the U.S. military action were being prepared to be dropped later.  




The humanitarian aid is meant to underscore the Bush administration's message that the strikes are aimed at terrorists, not ordinary Afghans.  




'To say that these attacks are in any way against Afghanistan or the Afghan people is flat wrong,' U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a press conference.

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