KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. warplanes kept up heavy bombing raids Monday on terrorist hide-outs in eastern Afghanistan, hoping to smash Osama bin Laden's die-hard supporters, while a second batch of prisoners was flown under cover of darkness to Cuba.
Aerial attacks against a deep complex of tunnels at Zawar, in the rugged hills of Paktia province near the border with Pakistan, have been under way for nearly two weeks. U.S. ground forces are also operating in the area, the last main battleground in Afghanistan.
The first group of international peacekeepers arrived Monday in Ghazni province, to the west of Paktia, and U.S. helicopters were seen flying over the highway linking Ghazni to Kabul, the capital, as the country's new authorities extend their control, the Pakistani-based Afghan Islamic Press agency reported.
The tempo of the bombing picked up with daylight raids Sunday and continued Monday. The bombing rattled windows in Khost, a town 20 miles southeast of Zawar. Civilians living near the bombing zone were fleeing and said that many had been killed and wounded by falling bombs.
Noorz Ali, who was fleeing the area in a rickety truck, told The Associated Press that bombs had fallen Friday on his village, about two miles from the tunnel complex, dug deep into the mountains near the border.
Most of the 35 homes were destroyed, including his, Ali said. Fifteen people died and others were injured, he said.
"No one is left but the dead," Ali said. "It began at 9 p.m. There were so many bombs and rockets I couldn't count. In my village, maybe 15 bombs fell."
The U.S. military says it is trying to avoid civilian casualties, but is determined to crush remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban seeking shelter in underground passages at Zawar, a camp that was the base of a senior Taliban commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
U.S. pilots flying F/A-18 and F-14 fighter jets from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea resumed sorties over Afghanistan after a two-day break for rest and maintenance, but it was not immediately clear if they were flying missions against Zawar.
Such breaks are necessary, said ship spokesman Lt. John Oliveira. "But it remains equally important to maintain a heavy air presence over Afghanistan," he added. "Our planes are considered the 911 call for our ground troops in case they are caught in a threatening situation where they need close air support."
The Zawar strikes mark the heaviest attacks since last month's attacks on the Tora Bora cave complex, which failed to yield bin Laden.
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