Powell Calms India; Special Forces Ready

Secretary of State Colin Powell reassured Indian leaders that America's closer ties with Pakistan don't mean Washington is turning its back on New Delhi, as signs emerged after 11 days of bombing that the United States is ready to step up the campaign against the Taliban.

With U.S. warplanes prowling the skies over Afghanistan looking for targets, two Pentagon officials have said American special forces troops and helicopters are in place on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Indian Ocean, ready to be sent in to Afghanistan.

But ABCNEWS has learned there is a heated debate within the Pentagon about how quickly to use helicopter firepower.

Many high-level Army generals think it should be used immediately. Some, though, are concerned that low-flying helicopters could be shot down — just as they were in Somalia seven years ago, when the resulting public-relations mess caused the withdrawal of American troops.

The United States has switched tactics from the early days of the campaign, when targets were determined before planes even reached Afghan airspace. Because so much of the Taliban air defenses have been either put out of commission or sent into hiding, pilots are now able to cruise the skies in zones looking for targets of opportunity.

A thick cloud of smoke hung over the Afghan capital of Kabul all day today, after U.S. warplanes hit a Taliban oil depot just north of the city center. The U.S. forces made eight daylight bombing runs over Kabul today.

In one neighborhood, the explosions blew out shop windows. In another, an unexploded bomb lay as an obstacle on the ground.

In the north of Afghanistan, the fighting continued in Mazar-e-Sharif, the biggest city in the region. Today the rebel Northern Alliance lost ground it had gained on Tuesday, then won it back by the end of the day despite a fierce counter-attack from the Taliban.

Aiming for the Airwaves

The attacks were launched in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States that left thousands dead or missing. The Bush administration says Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, who have been sheltered by the Taliban, were behind the attacks.

Washington stepped up its worldwide public relations campaign as well, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telling the Qatar-based al Jazeera television network that the United States is only trying to defend itself from terrorism.

"I think it's important for people in the region as well as throughout the world to understand that the United States is dealing only with the problem of terrorism," Rumsfeld told the broadcaster. "And this effort on our part is a matter of self-defense. It is not against any religion. It's not against any race. It's not against any country."

That public relations effort suffered a blow, though, with new reports of civilians being hit, a day after the Pentagon admitted that U.S. bombs hit a Red Cross warehouse in Kabul that was used to store food and medical supplies. A Taliban official said that a truck carrying refugees fleeing the bombing was hit in the raids today, with as many as 20 casualties.

And international aid workers called on the United States to stop its bombing campaign, saying drivers of relief trucks were too scared to enter the targeted cities. The World Food Programme also says the Taliban has seized two of its warehouses.

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