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US Bombings Continue, Amid Concerns about Afghan Refugees - 2001-10-27

U.S. warplanes repeatedly struck Taleban positions just to the north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Saturday, as Taleban fighters claim to have defeated an opposition offensive to capture the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif. The U.N.'s top refugee official says as many as 300,000 refugees could flee to Pakistan soon.

U.S. jets carried out some of their heaviest strikes to date against Taleban front-line positions about 40 kilometers north of Kabul.

The attacks against the Taleban are being carried out on a round-the-clock schedule, but so far Taleban authorities say their lines are holding north of Kabul and near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where the Taleban says it beat back a Northern Alliance offensive over the past two days.

Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf says the U.S. strikes need to be more carefully targeted to avoid civilian causalities, which he says are causing concerns around the world. General Musharraf, who is supporting the international effort against terrorism, also says Afghanistan could become a "quagmire" for the United States and its allies.

The head of the United Nations refugee agency, Rudd Lubbers, said as many as 300,000 additional Afghan refugees could soon try and flee to Pakistan. Mr. Lubbers, speaking in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, said about 150,000 Afghans have already crossed into Pakistan.

In Islamabad, a spokeswoman for the U.N. office on Afghanistan, Stephanie Bunker, said aid officials are becoming increasingly concerned. "Despite the best efforts of all aid agencies, we are not doing enough throughout Afghanistan," she said. "We are extremely concerned about the loss of life as winter closes in and the war continues to take its toll on innocent civilians."

Despite their concerns for the humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan, U.N. officials have not called for a pause in the airstrikes to allow more relief supplies to be sent into Afghanistan. The U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Kenzo Oshima, said more aid is needed for Afghans, but so far the U.S.-led strikes have not disrupted aid deliveries.

A number of private aid groups have called for a halt in the bombing, saying the strikes have slowed the delivery of much needed supplies before the onset of winter.