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US Planes Coming Under Attack As Afghan Strikes Continue - 2001-12-03


U.S. aircraft are again hammering the few remaining Taleban and al-Qaida targets around Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, and Jalalabad, in the east of the country. Despite the dwindling resistance American pilots are still facing dangers.

Since the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan began nearly two months ago, no American combat aircraft are known to have been shot down.

But Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, said U.S. aircrews are exercising caution, because anti-aircraft weapons are still being fired at their planes. "Our aircrews are still flying prudently, because there are still surface-to-air, man-portable weapons that are being fired into the air," he said.

Admiral Stufflebeem cannot say what types of weapons are being directed at U.S. planes by Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist forces.

But he acknowledged they could include portable Stinger missiles given by the United States to Afghan forces fighting the Soviets during the 1980's. "I don't know the numbers of what might be a Stinger or a Russian variant of that, or what might even be just a rocket-propelled grenade, but they're shooting at aircraft," he said.

The latest U.S. air strikes have focused on Kandahar, the last remaining Taleban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. U.S. bombs are also hitting cave and tunnel complexes near the eastern city of Jalalabad, where al-Qaida terrorist leaders are believed to have sought refuge.

Admiral Stufflebeem rejected claims U.S. bombs have struck civilian targets near Jalalabad. He suggested such reports may have originated with local village leaders bribed by terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. "We have heard anecdotal reports that this is an area where Osama bin Laden has been using some of his wealth to buy local village chieftains' support," he said.

As for the situation at Kandahar, the Pentagon official described it as fluid. He said anti Taleban forces are probing Taleban defenses, while consolidating firepower for a possible final all-out assault.

But he said there are also some negotiations going on with Taleban commanders for a possible surrender of the city.

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