The United States pounded three Afghan cities with intense bombing raids yesterday and launched a fresh propaganda onslaught to counter growing opposition to its antiterrorism campaign.
In the heaviest bombardment yet, about 50 attack jets and 10 B-1 and B-52 bombers blasted targets in Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar, seat of the ruling Taliban regime.
CNN quoted witnesses in Kandahar who said they heard the sound of helicopters, as well as heavy small-arms fire.
Pentagon sources told the network that a fixed-wing AC-130 gunship was used to attack ground positions.
U.S. officials have previously said that the Pentagon plans low-flying raids by helicopter gunships to hunt forces allied to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and forces of the ruling Taliban regime.
With major military installations and air-defense targets already knocked out, yesterday's strikes appeared to be aimed largely at Taliban troop concentrations.
Targets on the weekend included "terrorist camps," training facilities, headquarters, garrison and troop staging areas, said Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But the strikes were accompanied by growing criticism
65-year-old Manduzai Khanzada lays in his bed at the hospital in the city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001. Khanzada was wounded in the village of Karam, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, during what Taliban officials say was a U.S. air attack. According to the Taliban government, who organized a visit to the village by foreign journalists, around 200 civilians were killed in Karam on Thursday, during a U.S. air attack. (AP Photo/Enric Marti)
The Pentagon has acknowledged that four civilians were killed by a 1,240-kilogram bomb that slammed into a Kabul neighborhood on Saturday.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Taliban claims of significantly higher civilian casualties were "ridiculous."
But he acknowledged that the United States' image has suffered.
"To the extent we need to do a better job to make sure that people are not confused as to what this is about, then we darn well ought to do a better job," he said.
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, three of the world's largest Muslim nations, voiced strong concerns about the bombing.
The U.S.-led bombing began Oct. 7 and has included day and night raids for nearly a week.
"We wish the United States had been able to flush out the terrorists in Afghanistan without resorting to the current action . . . because this is killing innocent people," Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif told reporters.
The U.S. hearts-and-minds campaign intensified as National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice agreed to an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language television network which has been criticized for airing unedited statements by Mr. bin Laden.
Ms. Rice insisted that the U.S. campaign "is not a war against Islam."
But Afghans reaching Pakistan from Kandahar said the bombing is rallying support for the puritanical Taliban regime.
"I've seen the bodies of women and children pulled out of the rubble of their homes," shopkeeper Abdul Wali said. "People are getting angry."
In Indonesia, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to rout about 700 anti-U.S. protesters outside the country's parliament. Late Sunday, President Megawati Sukarnoputri stated that "no individual, group or government has the right to try to catch terrorist perpetrators by attacking the territory of another country."
In Pakistan, where U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived last night for talks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan said: "Prolongation of military operations will be a source of concern to us."
Results of two opinion polls indicated that 83 per cent of Pakistanis sympathize with the Taliban regime, although 51 per cent also agreed with President Pervez Musharraf's decision to co-operate with the United States.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed concerns that support for Washington is eroding.
"The best defense in this case is a strong offense," he said. "And that message has been received well by our allies."
Copyright © 2001 Globe Interactive