BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- U.S. jets swooped down to strike Taliban front lines and an Osama bin Laden stronghold north of Kabul on Tuesday, watched by opposition fighters hoping the American bombardment will open the way for their advance.
Opposition officials also reported U.S. attacks around the key northern city Mazar-e-Sharif, where an opposition offensive to recapture the stronghold faltered last week. Missiles set fire to critical Taliban oil supplies in the southern city of Kandahar.
In recent days, the United States has shifted strategy, drawing planes away from urban areas to target front-line positions of the Taliban and their allies in bin Laden's al-Qaida network facing the opposition northern alliance.
The goal is to enable the alliance to advance toward the capital, Kabul, and Mazar-e-Sharif and break the back of Taliban resistance. President Bush launched the air campaign Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to surrender bin Laden, chief suspect in last month's terrorist attacks in the United States.
From rooftops in this northern alliance stronghold, U.S. jets could be seen as tiny white specks roaring far overhead, before they swooped down to unleash their bombs. A series of nine blasts from several miles away could be heard.
Witnesses said at least five of those strikes hit the Taliban front line. "God Willing these bombs will let us move into Kabul," said one witness, northern alliance fighter Saeed Rafik. During strikes late Monday, one bomb landed behind northern alliance lines. There were no reports of casualties among alliance fighters.
Villagers and opposition fighters in alliance-held Bagram air base pointed at U.S. planes overhead Tuesday, saying, "There it is." As the bombing went on, Taliban and opposition fighters exchanged artillery and gun fire from their positions in the mountainous terrain.
Opposition spokesman Waisuddin Salik said the U.S. jets also struck at Uzbashi, an al-Qaida stronghold near Bagram.
In Uzbekistan, another alliance spokesman, Ibrahim Ghafoori, said American planes were attacking Taliban positions around Mazar-e-Sharif, which the rebels have been trying to recapture since they lost it in 1998.
Ghafoori said opposition fighters had advanced six to nine miles toward Mazar-e-Sharif in brisk fighting Monday and Tuesday. Opposition patrols had moved closer to the city last week but were pushed back by a strong Taliban counterattack.
But there were no signs Tuesday that the alliance is gearing up for a major assault -- and despite the stepped-up bombardment, the opposition has been unable to score major gains on the ground.
Fighters from the alliance -- a fractious coalition made up mostly of minority Tajiks and Uzbeks -- complained that so far U.S. airstrikes had not broken the stalemate.
"We expect U.S. strikes to hit the front lines, but they're not," Ghafoori said. An alliance commander, Gen. Baba Jan, said the Americans were not coordinating airstrikes with his own ground forces but "I expect there will be" better coordination soon.
The bombing appears to have prompted the Taliban to be more aggressive. As the smoke rose from airstrikes, the Taliban have responded by pounding alliance positions with rockets, mortars and artillery. A Taliban rocket slammed into the bazaar at Charikar, 30 miles north of Kabul, killing two people including a 60-year-old vegetable vendor.
"We want the war to be finished, and an end to the rockets of the Taliban," said Mohammad Nabi, whose son was lightly injured by the rocket. "Let America bomb them."
In Kandahar, the South Asian Dispatch Agency reported U.S. jets struck an oil depot and a fuel convoy, sending a thick cloud of black smoke rising into the clear blue sky.
U.S. planes also targeted an asphalt plant, setting back Taliban efforts to repair the runway at Kandahar airport, which has been pounded repeatedly during the air campaign, the agency said.
The agency also reported that U.S. jets late Monday bombed a mountain on the western outskirts of Kandahar where Taliban troops were trying to repair a radar station heavily damaged in earlier strikes.
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