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U.S. continues its air assault on Afghanistan terror targets

Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON - For a second day, U.S. planes and ships lighted up the skies over Afghanistan after nightfall yesterday, attacking airfields, ground troops and military facilities of the Taliban regime and training camps run by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist group.

The first daylight raid came hours after dawn today, when jets bombed the southern city of Kandahar.

Taliban officials said the jets were met with heavy anti-aircraft fire.

The U.S. strikes yesterday were slightly less heavy than the barrage launched Sunday in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States, officials said.

The targets, though, were similar. They included Taliban anti-aircraft positions that could endanger U.S. planes taking part in bombing runs and dropping humanitarian food rations for Afghan civilians.

At the White House, President Bush said the military strikes had been "executed as planned" and added:

"This will be a long war. It requires understanding and patience from the American people."

With American bombs dropping overseas and many people fearful of terrorist reprisals at home, Attorney General John Ashcroft outlined precautionary steps the government has taken, including tightened security at nuclear facilities and power plants.

Authorities said a second case of anthrax exposure was discovered in someone who worked in the same Florida building as a man who died last week of inhalation anthrax, an extremely rare and deadly form of the disease.

The FBI is looking into the possibility that the two cases were the result of terrorism or criminal action.

"It is a source of concern," said Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman.

Yesterday, Western reporters in Afghanistan said anti-aircraft gunfire could be heard around Kabul, the Afghan seat of government, and Kandahar, considered the country's spiritual capital. U.S. forces also hit Taliban positions near the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, Pentagon officials said.

The Pentagon said five long-range bombers, 10 sea-launched warplanes and 15 Tomahawk cruise missiles struck an undisclosed number of targets, including early-warning radars and Taliban ground forces.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the initial round of bombing had succeeded at least moderately in striking the Taliban's air defenses, airfields and aircraft. But Rumsfeld also sought to lower any expectations for a military rout, saying it was unclear whether the U.S. strikes had destroyed command centers and other military facilities.

No 'high-value' targets

"It is very unlikely that the airstrikes will rock the Taliban back on their heels," he acknowledged.

"That country has been at war for a very long time. The Soviet Union pounded it year after year after year. Much of the country is rubble. They have been fighting among themselves. They do not have high-value targets that would lend themselves to substantial damage from the air."

As law enforcement authorities guarded against possible terrorism, Tom Ridge was sworn in as director of a new White House Office of Homeland Security. With Bush at his side, Ridge pledged to foster a spirit of coordination among the many federal agencies that deal with counter-terrorism and to help close gaps in the nation's security systems.

The former Pennsylvania governor said the size and scope of his mission were "difficult but not impossible." Though critics have warned that he will lack the budgetary authority to do much more than provoke turf wars among agency chiefs, Ridge declared, "The only turf we should be worried about protecting is the turf we stand on."

Bush used the occasion of Ridge's swearing-in to stress that the U.S.-led drive to root out terrorism would go on, using not only military might but also legal, diplomatic, financial and other means.

"On all efforts and all fronts," the president said, "we're going to be ongoing and relentless as we tighten the net of justice."

White House officials said Bush reviewed the videotaped statement from bin Laden that was released by an Arab satellite TV station Sunday, apparently recorded before the military strikes in Afghanistan.

Aides said the president regarded the tape as further evidence that bin Laden was responsible for the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, though the Islamic militant did not explicitly acknowledge in the videotape that he was.

"If there was any doubt, there was bin Laden yesterday, saying, in effect, you know, 'Look at me,'" said Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

At the same time, Bush aides sought to dispel any notion that bin Laden was the only target in the campaign against terrorism. Though Bush had said after the terrorist assaults that he wants bin Laden captured "dead or alive," aides noted that the president has made clear that any individuals, groups or nations that aid terrorists could also face punishment.

"If Osama bin Laden was gone tomorrow, the war would continue," said Fleischer, Bush's spokesman. "One person is not what this is about. This is an entire network of terrorists that has global reach and those who continue to harbor terrorists who carried out an attack on our country."

Letter to United Nations

That point was underscored in a letter to the United Nations from the U.S. ambassador, John D. Negroponte, that held open the possibility that the United States would launch military strikes in countries other than Afghanistan.

The United States is obliged to notify the U.N. Security Council of military actions, which are allowed under the U.N. Charter when carried out in self-defense. The letter, sent Sunday and released yesterday, asserted that there was "clear and compelling information" that al-Qaida, which is supported by the Taliban, played a central role in the terrorist attacks on the United States.

But the letter from Negroponte added: "There is still much we do not know. We may find that our self-defense requires further actions with respect to other organizations and other states."

In seeking to intensify the pressure on terrorist groups, the Bush administration has been working to solidify an international alliance, an effort that is continuing.

"We've worked aggressively on the diplomatic front," the president said yesterday, "developing a broad and strong coalition of countries who are united with us and involved in our campaign."

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, whose forces took part in the attacks Sunday on Afghan targets, has emerged as an especially outspoken ally.

"Al-Qaida and the Taliban regime will be eager to spread false propaganda," Blair said yesterday. "Already, their lie machine is putting out false claims about U.S. planes being shot down.

"We know their aim: It is to foment conflict between Islam and the West. It is to present themselves as champions of the Muslim world against the USA. It is to say we are anti-Islam. This is a lie. Let us expose it once and for all."

The attacks that were launched Sunday included Tomahawk missiles fired from a British submarine. But Gen. Richard B. Myers of the Air Force, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that yesterday's airstrikes came from U.S. forces only.

An additional 37,000 packages of food rations were to be dropped over Afghanistan yesterday, about the number dropped Sunday.

Anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan seemed ready to strike in concert with the American barrage. The Afghan Islamic Press agency said the opposition Northern Alliance attacked the Taliban position last night at Dara-e Suf, near Mazar-e Sharif.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after a Pentagon briefing that the U.S. military was engaged in a war of attrition "in which the Afghan opposition can gain enough strength, and we can weaken the Taliban enough, so a broad-based group can take on the Taliban."

The U.S. attacks in Afghanistan ignited rioting in some areas of Pakistan, where Muslims shouted support for the Taliban leadership. In the city of Quetta, near the Afghan border, mobs lobbed firebombs while chanting glory to bin Laden and hatred for America.

But even before the U.S.-led airstrikes began Sunday, Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally, acted to consolidate power by promoting two generals and moving aside government officials sympathetic to the Taliban.

Across the United States, police stations, banks, shipping companies, water plants and nuclear facilities - which have been on high alert for the past four weeks - tightened security even further as officials prepared for the possibility of further terrorist attacks.

"I have instructed federal law enforcement to be on the highest level of alert," Ashcroft said at a news conference.

The attorney general said the FBI had cautioned 18,000 local police agencies and 27,000 corporate security managers to be on highest alert. Warnings were also issued to phone companies, nuclear facilities, electric power plants, computer firms, oil and gas companies and railroads, he said.

Vice President Dick Cheney remained at a secret location for a second day as a security precaution.

Ashcroft said that while it was important for Americans to be alert to potential threats, they should feel free to take part in ordinary activities. The attorney general noted that on Saturday, he attended the Navy-Air Force football game at FedEx Field in Landover, Prince George's County, to watch his nephew kick off the game for the Air Force.

"While we must be attentive to the threat, we must not yield to fear," Ashcroft said.

Justice officials would not discuss whether they had received any credible new terrorist threats. In the four weeks since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the department received 241 threats that were considered serious or credible.

Ashcroft said that 614 people have now been detained or arrested in the case. An additional 229 people are wanted for questioning. But Justice officials say no one has been directly charged in the attacks.

Anthrax investigation

The FBI took the lead yesterday in investigating possible anthrax contamination at the Boca Raton, Fla., offices of a chain of supermarket tabloids, including the Enquirer, Globe and Star.

One man died last week after having inhaled anthrax. Over the weekend, health officials detected anthrax bacteria in the nose of one of his co-workers.

At the White House, the president tried to soothe a tense nation.

"I know that many Americans at this time have fears," Bush said. "We've learned that America is not immune from attack. We will take strong precautions aimed at preventing terrorist attacks and prepare to respond effectively if they might come again."

Sun staff writers David L. Greene, Susan Baer and Mark Matthews and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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