WASHINGTON — U.S. warplanes continued to rain bombs on Taliban troops, weaponry and compounds in the fifth day of airstrikes against Afghanistan, Pentagon officials saidthis morning.
As President Bush honored the victims of terror at a Pentagon memorial service one month after the attacks in New York and Washington, American forces a half-world away turned their sights on the Taliban's military and its armor, Pentagon officials said.
Meanwhile, an Air Force sergeant died in a heavy equipment accident in the northern Arabian peninsula, becoming the first death in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Master Sgt. Evander Earl Andrews was assigned to the 366th Civil Engineer Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. He was originally from Maine, officials at the base said, but no other details were immediately available.
Now that U.S. attacks have for the most part destroyed Afghan air defenses, "we can conduct open-ended, day or night" strikes, the senior Pentagon official said.
Heavy explosions rocked the Kabul airport today in the first daylight raids on the capital. Earlier in the day, civilians fled the southern Afghan city of Kandahar as raids there targeted a compound where followers of Osama bin Laden had lived.
In neighboring Pakistan, government officials said U.S. military personnel arrived on the ground and Americans were granted use of several Pakistani air bases in connection with the confrontation over bin Laden.
More than 15 U.S. military aircraft, including C-130 transport planes, arrived over the past two days at a base at Jacobabad, 300 miles northeast of the port city of Karachi.
The U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan are focusing more on leaders of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and the Taliban regime that shields them.
Although the Pentagon publicly was silent about Wednesday's attacks, officials speaking on condition of anonymity said 5,000-pound, laser-guided bombs would be used against "leadership targets." Those include command and control centers believed to be in underground bunkers near Kandahar, the Taliban's seat of power in southern Afghanistan.
A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said Wednesday that two adult male relatives of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar were killed in bombing strikes on the leader's home in Kandahar.
Officials said U.S. warplanes also would begin dropping cluster munitions — anti-personnel bombs that dispense smaller bomblets — on mobile targets such as armored vehicles and troop convoys.
The attacks are meant to help persuade Taliban commanders to switch sides and either join the anti-Taliban northern alliance or fight their former comrades on their own.
In southern and eastern portions of Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence operatives likely will try to incite a revolt among those ethnic Pashtun leaders who lost power when the Taliban took over, said Michael Vickers, a retired Green Beret and CIA officer in South Asia who's now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and are the dominant ethnicity among the Taliban.
About 1,000 members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division are at an air base in Uzbekistan, about 90 miles from the former Soviet republic's border with Afghanistan. Although Uzbek leaders have said the soldiers at the base would only participate in humanitarian or search-and-rescue operations, the base also could be a staging area for combat raids.
The USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier also could provide at least a jumping-off point for special forces, since it left Japan for the region without its full complement of fighter planes. That clears the decks for use by the Black Hawk or Pave Low helicopters that carry special forces on their missions.
President Bush, meanwhile, was addressing a Pentagon memorial service today honoring the 189 killed there and the thousands more killed in New York and Pennsylvania during the Sept. 11 airliner hijackings. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also was to speak at the service.
Rumsfeld made no public statements Wednesday, and the Pentagon released a brief statement with a few details of Tuesday's bombing raids.
Those raids were the smallest since U.S. and British forces began the airstrikes Sunday, hitting six Afghan targets with between five and eight bombers and eight to 10 carrier-based Navy strike planes.