Cheers, Ken Hanly
US Rangers 'attack Taliban' By Patrick Bishop in Quetta and Toby Harnden in Washington (Filed: 20/10/2001)
AMERICAN special forces were reported to be attacking Taliban targets in southern Afghanistan early today.
Show of force: British troops exercise in Oman British commandos were also said to be behind enemy lines, but no details were given. "Special forces and helicopter gunships are involved," the American NBC news reported, quoting Pentagon sources. It spoke of more than 100 troops.
CBS gave a figure of 200 army Rangers. It said it would not identify the target until all the Rangers had been brought out by aircraft.
A Pentagon official said earlier that the American and British forces were operating in separate units.
Some Americans, working with CIA agents, were said to be trying to persuade Pathan leaders to abandon the Taliban, as low-flying aircraft broadcast messages urging surrender.
Officials with the anti-Taliban movement in the north said that a detachment of eight American soldiers had joined one of its senior commanders, Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, several days ago.
The secretive nature of Pentagon briefings on special forces operations suggested that a major action against the Taliban leadership could be imminent. Kandahar, in the south, the headquarters of the Taliban and for many of Osama bin Laden's foreign legion, has been the target of a fierce aerial assault over several days.
An operation codenamed Commander Solo underlined the sense that the campaign had accelerated. Four slow-moving EC-130CE aircraft broadcast radio messages in local languages over Taliban-held areas, warning people that American troops could be moving through their areas.
"Attention, Taliban," one message said. "You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death."
Another said: "When you decide to surrender, approach United States forces with your hands in the air. Sling your weapon across your back, muzzle towards the ground. Remove your magazine and expel any rounds.
"Doing this is your only chance of survival. Stay away from military installations, government buildings, terrorist camps, roads, factories or bridges. Seek a safe place and stay well away from anything that might be a target. We do not wish to harm you."
The broadcasts mocked the Taliban for using "obsolete and ineffective weaponry" against US firepower. They said: "Our bombs are so accurate we can drop them right through your windows."
Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban militia, responded to the propaganda war by sending envoys to the opposition Northern Alliance troops calling on them to switch sides and fight "the American invasion".
The Northern Alliance said it had spurned the approach. Sources in Quetta said that the Taliban had been offering local warlords weapons and the chance to join them in fighting the Americans.
As special forces moved into the south of the country, American aircraft began bombing Taliban front lines north of Kabul facing Northern Alliance positions. Small numbers of British and American special forces are understood to have been liaising with Northern Alliance leaders since air strikes began on Oct 7.
Abdul Hanan Hemat, a Taliban spokesman, said there had been no sighting of American troops, but that the regime's forces were waiting for them.
"We do not want this fight, but if there is a ground battle we would prefer that to bombing," he said. "The Afghans have proved themselves on the battlefield, especially over the past 25 years. Anyone born over the past 25 years knows how to fight."
The introduction of ground forces was the expected next step after the initial blitz to destroy air defences and fixed military positions. The air campaign has been restricted by the paucity of targets and the danger of killing civilians.
Taliban officials said that 12 civilians had been killed in raids on Kandahar on Thursday night and four elsewhere. They claimed that between 600 and 900 people were dead or missing since the bombing started.
Donald Rumsfeld, the American secretary of defence, denied that many innocents had been killed. But wounded civilians arriving in Quetta from Kandahar told a different story.
"Bombs were dropped near the bazaar four days ago," said Yar Mohammed, 22, who had his right leg smashed in a blast. Many women and children were killed. One child had his head blown off."
Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said that a rocket missed him by 60ft during a visit to Kandahar. "That shows that the strikes the Americans are carrying out are inside the civilian areas and civilians are being hit."
France said it was preparing to take a greater military role in the campaign. "We are studying the modalities of a further participation in the action," an official said.