SCMP Friday, November 2, 2001

US pounds Taleban troops, anthrax kills woman

REUTERS in Washington/Kandahar

Updated at 3.12pm:
US warplanes intensified bombing of front line Taleban troops in Afghanistan overnight (HK time) as Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair toured the Middle East to boost Arab support for the campaign and a fourth American died from anthrax poisoning.
The Pentagon said its aircraft had been carpet-bombing Taleban troops north of Kabul as a result of improved targeting intelligence, partly from US special forces on the ground.
Witnesses reported seeing a wall of orange flame and huge clouds of dust and counted as many as 100 explosions after a B-52 bomber dropped its load on Taleban positions overlooking Bagram airbase from where the opposition Northern Alliance is anxious to begin an offensive against Kabul.
US warplanes have been targeting Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda movement as well as Taleban forces harboring him, in reprisal for last month's attacks on New York and Washington that killed about 4,800 people.
''We have many more targets now. I think today we're up to something like 80 percent of all of our sorties are focused on the Taleban and al Qaeda forces and the only way that could be done is if the people on the ground were providing much better target information,'' US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.
The Pentagon said Mr Rumsfeld would travel on Friday to Moscow and the region near Afghanistan to discuss the war.
In Washington, officials admitted concern over the latest death of a woman in New York from inhaled anthrax, a potent germ warfare weapon, as they struggled to trace the source of the bacteria, thought to have been spread by tainted letters.
Baffled authorities cannot say how or where the 61-year-old Vietnamese hospital supply clerk became infected as neither a suspicious letter nor traces of anthrax were found where she worked.
''This is an event of concern and the president is discussing with his team,'' said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Also overnight, another New Jersey postal worker was diagnosed with signs of the less dangerous skin anthrax and the State Department said traces of what appeared to be anthrax turned up in two mail bags in the US Embassy in Lithuania. Traces have already been found at two mailrooms in the State Department building and in a pouch sent to Peru.
US Attorney General John Ashcroft said investigators were working to find the source of the anthrax, which has infected 16 people in Washington, New York, New Jersey and Florida, but added that the risk of more anthrax or other terrorist attacks remained.
''I can't say that people have any right to think that the risks have abated as it relates either to anthrax or other terrorist risks,'' he cautioned.
Authorities do not yet know if the anthrax attacks are part of an orchestrated campaign of germ warfare, although officials have said they might be related to bin Laden.
Mr Fleischer said a no-fly zone around US nuclear plants had been expanded as a result of the latest national security alert issued on Monday by Ashcroft.
President George W. Bush defended the decision to issue the alert, which critics described as vague and alarmist. Mr Bush said, ''This is a very unusual period in American history ... We've never been attacked like this before. We're still being attacked.''