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U.S. pounds Taliban front, prepares for winter combat

Smoke rises into the skies over Afghanistan after U.S-led airstrikes pounded Taliban positions near the Bagram Air Base Tuesday.  

(CNN) -- Northern Alliance forces traded fire Tuesday with Taliban troops near a strategic air base north of Kabul, Afghanistan, as U.S. warplanes bombarded Taliban lines for a third day.

Mortar fire, artillery and gunfire were heard throughout the night along the front. Taliban were reported to be putting up stiff resistance against the Northern Alliance.

Northern Alliance troops fired rockets toward Taliban positions, but there was no evidence that alliance forces were moving forward.

The Northern Alliance was attempting to consolidate its position south of Bagram air base, a Soviet-built facility 25 miles north of Kabul, according to reports. Should the alliance take Bagram, its commanders say, that could open the door for U.S. forces to use the air facility. (Full story)

In Washington, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, said he doubted the war would end before the onset of winter weather in Afghanistan next month. The Taliban should be prepared for more pounding during those months, he said. "We are an all-weather-capable force," he said.

He also hinted that U.S. ground forces would continue to be used to strike Taliban forces and the al Qaeda network.

"I would say that there will not be any elements of coalition capabilities that would be disregarded," Stufflebeem said. "Everything will be considered, and the best possible or most effective way to be able to root out this military will be done."

CNN's Diana Muriel reports that NATO for the first invoked article No. 5 of its treaty, which declared that an attack on the United States was tantamount to an attack on all 19 member nations (October 23)

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U.S.-led airstrikes are targeting Taliban frontline positions. CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports (October 23)

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Should the U.S. pause its attack on the Taliban for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan?

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Latest developments

• President Bush said Tuesday he would not be surprised if al Qaeda was responsible for the recent anthrax attacks in the United States. Earlier, press secretary Ari Fleischer said a machine at a remote mail site that handles mail for the White House tested positive for anthrax. He said environmental sampling found no anthrax at the White House, and Bush said, "I don't have anthrax." (Full story)

• The Pentagon said Tuesday that landing gear and wheels displayed by Taliban officials Monday came from a U.S. helicopter that hit a barrier during an attack. The CH-47 helicopter, a tandem-rotor machine used to transport troops, was damaged but was able to land safely across the border in Pakistan with no injuries. The Taliban said the gear came from a U.S. helicopter that its troops shot down.

• The local staff of the United Nations in Herat, Afghanistan, said Tuesday a hospital inside a military compound on the eastern outskirts of the city was bombed Monday. The Pentagon acknowledged a bomb missed its target, a vehicle storage facility, and hit a field near a senior-citizens' home in Herat on Sunday. Taliban officials said 100 people were killed, a figure the Pentagon said was probably exaggerated. (Full story)

• A U.S. transport helicopter was fired on Saturday while trying to refuel at a Pakistani air field, Pentagon officials said Tuesday. The helicopter was recovering the wreckage of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter that had crashed earlier. The helicopter returned fire, aborted the refueling stop and flew to another airbase. There were no casualties among the U.S. crew and no reports of casualties on the ground.

• A terrorist cell operating out of Hamburg, Germany, since at least 1999 included three of the hijacking suspects and three others who are being sought in connection with the September 11 attacks, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday. (Full story)

• British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon said Tuesday all nine al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan have been destroyed. "We have achieved the first of these objectives, destroying the terrorist camps," Hoon told a news briefing. "We believe that nine al Qaeda camps were occupied before the start of the military operation, I can now tell you that we have successfully put all of these camps out of action." He said the coalition was also making progress against the Taliban. (Full story)

• Pakistani police and Islamic fundamentalist demonstrators clashed Tuesday in Jacobabad, Pakistan, in an anti-American protest, police sources told CNN. Police said 70 demonstrators took part; protesters said they had 250. (Full story)

• German authorities arrested a Turkish man last week at the Frankfurt airport on suspicions he was a leading member of a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organization, the German prosecutor general announced Tuesday. Authorities said they found explosive materials, a protective suit against chemicals and combat fatigues in his suitcase at the time of his arrest Wednesday. The man, identified only as Harun A., 29, is not believed to have links to the three September 11 hijacking suspects who lived in Hamburg for several years. (Full story)

• House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, said Tuesday that he believes there is a link between the anthrax cases in the United States and the September 11 terrorist attacks. "I don't think there is a way to prove that, but I think we all suspect that," Gephardt said. (Full story)

• U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States was sensitive to the concerns of Arab countries, but did not say U.S. forces would pause their attacks on the Taliban for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He said the threat of terrorism must be eliminated as quickly as possible. Rumsfeld also said "history is replete" with instances in which Muslim countries did not stop their military campaigns to honor their holy days.

• Rumsfeld sharply criticized last week's Pentagon leaks to the media about special operation forces on the ground in Afghanistan, saying the leaks jeopardized the lives of American troops and could have ruined the mission. (Full story)

• Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said his decision to lend support to the U.S-led campaign against terrorism was "difficult," but was the right decision. He hoped the U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan would be brought to a quick conclusion, Musharraf said.

• A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees said Monday as many as 60,000 Afghan refugees have crossed into Pakistan since the U.S.-led bombing began. The agency appealed for $50 million in aid for new arrivals. (Full story)


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