Rumsfeld also suggested that U.S. airstrikes could begin targeting Taliban front-line positions that are facing the fighters of the Northern Alliance.

"I suspect that in the period ahead that that's not going to be a very safe place to be" for Taliban troops, he said. "We hope to have improved targeting information in the period ahead."

The Northern Alliance is pressing for the United States to provide air cover as it fights the Taliban troops north of Kabul, and opposition officials have expressed frustration over the level of U.S. military support.

Still, the Northern Alliance claims it is making progress. Yesterday, alliance officials said its forces had advanced to within three miles of the airport at Mazar-e Sharif, a strategic city that the Taliban have held since 1998. The claim could not be independently verified.

The alliance's deputy defense minister, Atiqullah Baryalai, said his forces had captured two towns, Marmol and Sherdian, on the southern fringes of Mazar-e Sharif last night.

He stopped short of predicting that his forces would capture the city and said the Northern Alliance was having difficulty supplying its troops because its small helicopter fleet was vulnerable to Taliban anti-aircraft guns.

Northern Alliance officials claim that 300 to 400 Pakistani and Arab fighters have crossed from Pakistan near the central city of Chaman on the Afghan border to try to link up with the Taliban. U.S. officials said they could not confirm whether any volunteers were heading into Afghanistan.

Over the weekend, U.S. and British forces continued to attack al-Qaida terrorist training camps, airfields, air defense forces and command-and-control facilities with bombs and cruise missiles, Pentagon officials said.

Since Oct. 7, F-14 and F/A-18 warplanes from the USS Enterprise and USS Carl Vinson have run hundreds of bombing raids over Afghanistan. The Roosevelt is expected to relieve the Enterprise, which was to have returned home earlier but was ordered to stay in the region after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The USS Kitty Hawk is the fourth carrier in the region. The Pentagon has said it was in the Indian Ocean but has kept its mission secret. The Kitty Hawk left its home base in Japan without its usual number of planes aboard, allowing it to be used as a floating base for special forces operations.

There were signs that the attacks were worsening the suffering of the Afghan people, already impoverished after more than 20 years of civil conflict. At a Kabul hospital, doctors and mothers said the nightly power outages were threatening the lives of newborns, especially premature babies who require incubators.

In Washington, Bush began an intensive week of diplomacy, speaking by phone with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, and later meeting with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.

Berlusconi, in a speech last month, had antagonized some Muslim leaders when he spoke of "the superiority of Christianity" and the need to "occidentalize" the Middle East. After an outcry, the Italian prime minister apologized and asserted that his words had been taken out of context.

With estimates of the financial losses caused by the terrorist attacks mounting, the Bush administration proposed a plan yesterday that would split the costs of property claims from future terror attacks between the government and the insurance industry.

Insurance companies that write policies protecting property could face payments of $30 billion to $50 billion for the attacks on New York and Washington, the biggest insured loss ever.

Major reinsurance companies, which assume part of the risk covered by insurance companies, have said they won't renew terrorism coverage after Dec. 31, when many contracts will expire and must be renewed.

The administration's plan is offered as an alternative to legislation that would create a government-backed insurance industry pool to cover future terrorism losses.

Administration officials complain that that proposal would put the government in the position of directly regulating the insurance industry and possibly the rates charged for coverage.

Wire services contributed to this article.