U.S. forces are pounding Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist targets in Afghanistan with intense air strikes. Defense officials believe a key Taleban-held city may soon fall to the opposition Northern Alliance.
The city is Mazar-i-Sharif. Pentagon officials say its loss to the opposition Northern Alliance forces would be significant.
Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold is director of operations for the military's joint staff. He said, "Mazar-i-Sharif has two critical elements to it. One is that it's a crossroads, mostly for resupply of the forces. The other one is the psychological one. Its loss to the Taleban would be a significant setback."
General Newbold shows reporters at the Pentagon fresh gun camera footage from a U.S. strike aircraft which destroyed a Taleban tank defending Mazar-i-Sharif airport. He gives no details of other allied air strikes in the vicinity of the strategic northern city.
But the general describes the pressure of U.S. air strikes against Taleban targets as relentless and he asserts they have had a dramatic effect on the Taleban leadership.
On Monday, over 100 aircraft pounded a variety of targets, including military facilities, airfields and air defense sites. Tuesday's raids were also intense.
For the first time, U.S. bombers and fighter aircraft and long-range cruise missiles have been joined in the attacks by AC-130 gunships. Defense officials say these can strike targets with extreme precision and also loiter for hours, an advantage over fighters.
General Newbold says he has no information about a possible errant U.S. weapon striking a Red Cross facility near the Afghan capital, Kabul. He says the matter is under investigation.
But he also stresses extreme care is being taken in the U.S. attacks. "Nobody," he said, "no armed force, no coalition has ever shown such care and caution and discriminating, has put so much effort in planning and in selection of tactics, techniques and weapons to ensure that collateral damage, unintended casualties are kept to a minimum and I would highlight the distinction with those we're after and their deliberate targeting of the innocent and unprotected."
In the meantime, U.S. air drops of humanitarian relief supplies are continuing. In all, Pentagon officials say over 350,000 individual rations have now been distributed at locations around Afghanistan.