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|Afghanistan Defiant as It Counts Dead in Strikes|
|10/08/01 at 15:29:16|
|Afghanistan Defiant as It Counts Dead in Strikes|
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Kabul decided Monday to resist U.S. attacks, saying the Afghan people would sacrifice all for honor even as officials counted the dead and thousands fled the capital fearing another night of thunderous air raids.
However, the chief target of the attacks, fugitive militant Osama bin Laden, emerged unscathed, officials said.
"We have decided to forcefully resist the American-British attacks," Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) quoted cabinet spokesman Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, the education minister, as saying.
The Taliban also decided to reinforce military positions against the attacks designed to flush out Saudi-born fugitive bin Laden and followers in his al Qaeda movement hiding in the country, AIP quoted him as saying.
"Although we have already strengthened our military bases, the new decision includes deployment of forces at some more places and tactics of resistance," he said.
But thousands of Kabul residents, fearing more attacks after three waves of bombing and missile strikes shattered the silence of the night in their war-shattered city, packed up what they could and fled the capital as dawn broke and the nightly curfew was lifted.
"This is a disgrace and a dishonor to the Islamic world," Taliban Ambassador Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef told a news conference in Islamabad. "Afghanistan has never committed a terrorist act in its history.
Initial estimates from across the country placed the death toll at 20 from what Zaeef called "horrendous terrorist attacks," but Deputy Health Minister Mohammad Abbas later said the toll was about eight.
"Houses were hit near Kabul airport and women and children were killed," Zaeef told Reuters, adding that details were still coming in.
The United States and its allies unleashed a series of stunning air attacks on Taliban targets across the country late Sunday, including at least three in Kabul, at the start of Washington's military retaliation for harboring bin Laden.
Air defenses, command and control bases, fuel dumps and guerrilla training camps appeared to be the prime targets.
"If the U.S. thinks that it will get results and fruit from the attacks, this is a wrong assumption and it will be unsuccessful," Zaeef said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
"Afghans will never be browbeaten by these fears. They are never prepared to compromise their religion and their honor for money," he said. "They will defend their religion and their honor with sacrifices."
The official Voice of Shariat radio said Kabul had suffered neither casualties nor material damage and the army's morale was boosted.
Taliban officials said three people were killed and at least four injured in three air raids on the fundamentalist movement's southern Afghan stronghold of Kandahar, home of its spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, bin Laden's protector.
The raids hit the district where the reclusive Omar has a house, but did not touch his home, officials said.
Both Saudi-born millionaire bin Laden and Mullah Omar, a mujahideen guerrilla who lost an eye fighting the Soviet army, were unscathed and in Afghanistan, the ambassador told reporters.
"We don't have any contact with him (bin Laden) but he is still in Afghanistan... He is alive," Zaeef said.
The cabinet said there was no change in the Taliban policy that it wanted to see evidence before handing over the man believed to have masterminded the devastating U.S. attacks.
"There is no change in our policy about Osama," Muttaqi said. "We always believe in negotiations."
The Taliban have persistently refused to surrender bin Laden saying he is a guest and the United States has failed to provide any evidence against him.
THREE WAVES OF BOMBING
Witnesses said the first planes roared over the capital at around 9:20 p.m. (1620 GMT) Sunday, soon after a nightly curfew took effect, and lit up the night sky by dropping bombs or firing missiles at targets of the hard-line ruling Taliban in the city and near the airport.
Two more waves followed over the next few hours as U.S. and British forces launched millions of dollars' worth of missiles and rockets from air and sea at key Taliban targets in one of the world's least developed countries.
As dawn broke in Kabul, residents began emerging nervously from their homes following what one described as a night of terror.
"Only God knows what has happened," said one resident. "I am leaving. I will sleep under the sky rather than stay in the city for another night."
An old disabled man at a bus station said he was too frightened to stay in a city that has seen large areas reduced to rubble in more than 20 years of war. "We are leaving because it is no longer safe here -- thanks to America," he said.
But many people tried to resume their normal daily life, opening their shops, while Taliban guards were in their normal positions outside government offices.
As Kabul mosques opened for early morning prayers, calls rose for a jihad (holy war) against America.
"We have to sacrifice ourselves for our country and Islam," was the call at one mosque.
The Taliban cabinet decided to endorse a decision by clerics last month to declare a jihad if attacked.
"The verdict of the ulema (clerics) is enforceable," Information Minister Qudrutallah Jamal said. "They issued an edict for jihad and our people are enforcing it."
At Topdara, the Northern Alliance took advantage of the U.S. air strikes on Kabul to fire volleys of rockets on the Taliban Monday and said they planned heavier attacks, witnesses said.
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