Originally created 10/07/01

Taliban headquarters reportedly takes brunt of assault



ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Black smoke billowed from the home of the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar following a wave of missile attacks Sunday on the heart of Afghanistan's ruling militia, Taliban sources said.

Omar survived, according to the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. But the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar - already a shabby city of rocket-gouged streets and bullet-scarred homes - appeared to have borne the brunt of the U.S.-British attack to flush out terrorists living in Afghanistan.

The assault on the southern Afghan city came in at least three waves, according to Taliban sources who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone on condition of anonymity.

The first was a punishing attack on the airport, which was built by the United States as a refueling stop between Europe and India before the long-haul Boeing 747s were introduced.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that began in 1979, the airport served as a base for airstrikes against the U.S.-backed Islamic resistance movement.

Today, the airport complex includes 300 houses built in 1996 for fighters of the al-Qaida terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The United States said Sunday's strikes targeted the Taliban leadership for harboring bin Laden and al-Qaida, which operates camps throughout the country.

The sophistication of the force arrayed against the Taliban tribesmen was brought to bear when a second round of attacks struck the city, according to the sources.

In the second wave - more precise than the first - missiles slammed into the Taliban's military headquarters in the heart of the city and Omar's high-walled compound about 9 miles outside Kandahar, the sources said.

Taliban ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef, said in Islamabad, Pakistan, that Omar and bin Laden both were alive, but did not say whether Omar was at home when the attacks began.

Omar had moved to the compound last year after a powerful explosion outside his former city residence killed 42 people, including several guards. The anti-Taliban northern alliance was blamed for the blast.

Sunday's hit was precise. The Taliban sources said the sun-baked mud homes and high-walled compounds on the same road as the military headquarters apparently escaped damage - though they said authorities were not yet able to inspect closely to make sure.

Last week, several Kandahar residents who had fled to neighboring Pakistan said the heavily armed Taliban, who routinely were seen loitering outside the military headquarters, had disappeared. Inside the building, the few people visible were mostly Arab members of al-Qaida, they said.

In the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, there were reports of three explosions, including one south of the city in Farmada, where hundreds of Arab fighters once lived.

Rishkore, a camp on the southern edge of Kabul, also apparently was targeted Sunday. It was deserted months before last month's attack on the United States, according to residents in the capital. But infrastructure remained, including houses, offices and training facilities.

Afghans who travel freely across the border say most of the camps used by militants - mostly Arabs, Pakistanis, Uzbeks and Chechens - were abandoned after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

Destroying the al-Qaida training camps in the rugged mountain ranges that crisscross Afghanistan will be more difficult, according Taliban and other sources familiar with them.

"They have camps in every province," said one senior Taliban commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity.