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U.S. prepared to bomb Afghanistan through winter

Bagram bombing
Smoke rises Tuesday near the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan after U.S-led airstrikes pounded Taliban positions.  

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. jets pounded Taliban troop and tank positions along their front lines against the opposition Northern Alliance for a third consecutive day Tuesday, while Pentagon officials said they were prepared to strike throughout an oncoming winter.

In Washington, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, hinted that more U.S. ground troops will be used to strike at Taliban forces and members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

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

Stufflebeem said it is unlikely the war will end before the onset of winter next month, and the Taliban should be prepared for more pounding during those months.

"We are an all-weather-capable force," he said.

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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CNN's Matthew Chance reports from Afghanistan on the Northern Alliance's military preparedness in the wake of the latest U.S.-led attack (October 22)

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The campaign, which began October 7, pressed on Tuesday as U.S. planes struck the Taliban front lines in hopes of aiding a Northern Alliance advance.

CNN's Chris Burns reported from the area that the Taliban were putting up stiff resistance, firing mortars at the Northern Alliance. Northern Alliance troops were firing Katyusha rockets toward Taliban positions, but there was no evidence that an opposition force was moving forward, Burns reported.

The Northern Alliance was attempting to consolidate its position south of Bagram Air Base, a Soviet-built facility, said Burns. Should the opposition take Bagram, Northern Alliance commanders say, it could open the door for U.S. forces to use the air facility.

At Mazar-e Sharif, "We are still watching a battle that is moving back and forth," Stufflebeem said. But he added, "We know it's also having a positive effect."

In the Afghanistan capital, Kabul, a source from the Harkat ul Mujhideen militant group said 22 members of the group were killed in a U.S.-led attack Tuesday morning. The Pakistan-based group is on the Bush administration's recently released list of terrorist organizations.

At the Pentagon news briefing, Stufflebeem said there are signs the Taliban are trying to disperse their military assets and that there are "anecdotal reports that they are considering using neighborhoods and mosques" and other civilian areas as hiding places.

He also said he believes al Qaeda forces are fighting with the Taliban at the front lines against the Northern Alliance. In addition, he said, all known al Qaeda terrorist training camps have been hit.

"If al Qaeda were to ever raise their heads to train again, we will try to find those camps and strike those camps," he added.

Stufflebeem said he didn't know the specific number of camps hit. At an earlier briefing, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said nine terrorist camps had been destroyed.

The Taliban, meanwhile, accused the United States of using chemical warfare in its airstrikes, saying victims brought to hospitals have displayed "symptoms of chemicals on their bodies."

The charge came in a news conference Tuesday with Taliban diplomats in Pakistan. They did not elaborate on the accusation, saying they had no other information.

The Pentagon said that errant U.S. bombs landed in a residential area near Kabul and in a field near a senior citizens home near the western city of Herat. But Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said she had no information on Taliban and U.N. reports that a hospital had been hit in Herat.

U.N. aid staff on Tuesday said a military hospital inside a military compound on the eastern outskirts of the Herat was bombed Monday. It apparently was the same incident mentioned Monday by a Taliban official who said 100 people died when a hospital was hit.

Clarke said she had no information on casualties, but a Pentagon official told CNN earlier Tuesday that the Taliban claim was believed to be an exaggeration.

"As we always say, we regret any loss of civilian life," she said. "We take great care to target only military facilities."


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