US bombs wound up to 300 Taliban say aid workers

 

US planes once more blasted Taliban front lines to day and foreign aid workers are now estimating that up to 300 fighters of the ruling Afghan militia have been wounded in the last week.

Taliban officials reported gains on the ground near Aq Kupruk, some 70 km south of the strategic northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, near the border with Uzbekistan.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Taliban were no longer working as a proper government but the militant networks they sheltered still posed a threat to global security.

As the US bombardment entered its fifth week Afghan opposition commanders north of Kabul said they faced an enemy that had lost equipment but was still well supplied with men.

In Islamabad, aid workers in contact with Kabul said the bombing of Taliban positions north of Kabul had wounded between 200 and 300 fighters since B-52s began carpet bombing last week.

The casualties were being treated in military hospitals in the capital and security was tight, said the aid workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Military experts said that with the number of wounded at that level, the number of dead would be between 30 and 50.

That is at the higher end of expectations, said one military source in Pakistan.

The aid workers' report could not be independently verified.

The Taliban have answered all questions on casualties among their lightly armed, blackturbaned Islamist fighters by saying only that the number of injured is extremely small.

Rumsfeld, in Pakistan as part of a whirlwind four-day tour of five countries in the region that have offered support to US military operations in Afghanistan, said four weeks of US bombing had significantly undermined the Taliban, but the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden was still a threat.

"The Taliban is not really functioning as a government as such," Rumsfeld told reporters.

"As a military force they have concentrations of power that exist. They have military capabilities that exist. They are using their power in enclaves...to impose their will."

"The reality is the threats of additional acts are there - they are credible and real," he said.

Rumsfeld said that despite calls for a bombing halt in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan that starts around November 17th Pakistani officials had agreed it was important to settle military objectives as soon as possible.

"I am aware of the views," he said. "But everyone is aware of what the ultimate goal is."