By Pauline Jelinek
WASHINGTON – American warplanes launched daylight and nighttime attacks over Afghanistan today and the Pentagon said it began dropping leaflets to assure Afghans that the bombing is aimed at ridding their country of terrorists.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the leaflets dropped Sunday were the first since bombing began Oct. 7, and that the drops are coordinated with aerial broadcasts of messages to the Afghan people.
“We’re working to make clear to the Afghan people that we support them and we want to help free their nation from the grip of the Taliban and their foreign terrorist allies,” Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.
Rumsfeld took issue with reports by the Taliban government that the U.S. bombing has killed hundreds of civilians.
“Some of the numbers are ridiculous,” he said, adding that Taliban leaders are “accomplished liars.”
Rumsfeld acknowledged that some Afghan civilians have been unintended casualties of the U.S. attacks, but he offered no specific numbers.
“I don’t think there is any way to avoid that” in a war, he said.
Joining Rumsfeld at the news conference, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said U.S. and British strikes hit 17 targets Saturday, including al-Qaida terrorist training camps, airfields, air defense forces and command-and-control facilities.
Myers, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said about 25 American aircraft were used, including land-based bombers and strike aircraft launched from U.S. carriers in the Arabian Sea.
Myers also said 15 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired Saturday from U.S. and British ships and submarines.
Sunday’s attacks hit seven targets, he said, including Taliban troop staging areas.
Rumsfeld said the attacks continued today but he gave no specifics.
The ninth day of bombing opened with jets roaring across the dawn sky over the capital, Kabul, striking in the area of the airport and a military base. Throughout the day, wave after wave of bombers hit suspected military targets in the northwest of the capital.
A single jet bombed the western outskirts of Jalalabad in the east of the country, reportedly hitting the bin Laden training camp at Tora-Bora and a third target near the village of Karam. The Taliban say up to 200 people were killed when U.S. jets hit homes in Karam last week.
More bombing resumed after nightfall.
Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said in a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that the Pentagon was talking with Italy about the possibly of contributing Italian troops for the fight in the Gulf region as well to fill in other places where U.S. troops are “stretched a bit thin.”
“I’m here in the United States to be with you in this fight against terrorism,” Berlusconi said. “It will be a long fight, but I’m sure that we will win … by substituting fear with courage.”
He said two Italian officers were at the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., to figure out ways Italy could help.
Berlusconi said last week that he hoped Washington wouldn’t ask for ground troops in the war on terrorism. And he said he expected to be asked instead to increase Italy’s presence in the Balkans.
Wolfowitz confirmed the Pentagon might want Italian troops to take over some U.S. peacekeeping duties in the Balkans to free American troops from the duty. He said Italy could also play a role in the Afghanistan/Gulf region but wouldn’t elaborate.
“Italy has played a very big role in the Balkans and obviously that’s one of the places where we’re feeling a certain amount of strain,” Wolfowitz told reporters outside the Pentagon. “So that’s obviously a place where Italy might play a larger role.
“But I think Italy also can play a direct role in ongoing operations in a number of ways that we’re investigating,” he said.
Today’s air strikes in Afghanistan came a day after President Bush rejected a Taliban offer to hand over Osama bin Laden if the United States ended the bombing and showed evidence of his involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Meanwhile the USS Theodore Roosevelt was getting into position in the region today, bringing to four the number of aircraft carriers involved in the campaign.
It was expected that the Roosevelt would relieve the USS Enterprise, which was to have returned home earlier but was ordered to stay in the region after the Sept. 11.
But the Navy said today it hadn’t been decided whether to keep all four carriers in the region.
Since Oct. 7, F-14 and F/A-18 warplanes from the USS Enterprise and USS Vinson have run hundreds of bombing raids over Afghanistan.
The USS Kitty Hawk is the fourth carrier in the region. The Pentagon said last week that it was in the Indian Ocean but has been extremely secretive about it’s mission. It left its home base in Japan without its usual number of airplanes aboard, allowing it to be used as a floating base for special forces operations.
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