The United States carried out its heaviest daytime bombing raids on Kabul today, even as it started a propaganda campaign aimed at winning over the Afghan people.
The U.S.' aerial campaign — intended to root out the country's Taliban regime and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden — intensified with fighter jets pounding targets around the Afghan capital and a suspected terrorist training camp in eastern Afghanistan, according to The Associated Press.
The United States has also begun dropping leaflets in Afghanistan in addition to food, and is beginning radio broadcasts to explain its campaign to the Afghan people.
One B-52 bomber dropped 400,000 leaflets in Afghanistan today. Printed in a variety of languages, their message reads, "The partnership of nations is here to help," and shows a picture of a Western-looking soldier shaking hands with an Afghan.
With bin Laden and other members of his al Qaeda network dominating the airwaves in the Arab and Muslim world, the Bush administration launched a public relations counter-offensive on television, with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice giving an interview today to the influential Qatar station al Jazeera.
And ABCNEWS has learned the Department of Education is exploring ways to link schoolchildren in the United States to Muslim-world counterparts.
Rumsfeld: Taliban Quick to Claim Casualties
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today dismissed Taliban claims that at least 200 civilians have been killed since the bombing began on Oct. 5. He said the United States had no way of confirming the claims.
"I think that we know of certain knowledge that the Taliban leadership and al Qaeda are accomplished liars, that they go on television and they say things that we know are absolutely not true," Rumsfeld said during a briefing at the Pentagon.
In the last 24 hours, the Taliban took a group of reporters to sites in Afghanistan it said were civilian areas that were hit by U.S. bombs or missiles, but Rumsfeld pointed out that the journalists were shepherded by the regime's guides, and were not allowed to see other areas they requested access to.
He also warned that some civilian casualties were unavoidable, but said the importance of the mission demanded that the campaign be carried out.
"On occasion, there will be people hurt that one wished had not been," he said. "I don't think there's any way in the world to avoid that and defend the United States from the kinds of terrorist attacks which we've experienced."
The question of civilian casualties has gained renewed importance, as a key U.S. ally, Pakistan, today expressed concern about the reports of innocent lives being lost in Afghanistan and pressed for America to curtail the bombing. Refugees fleeing the bombing reportedly say that support for the Taliban is growing in the country.
Pakistan's leaders have supported the U.S. military campaign to destroy Taliban defenses in Afghanistan as part of broader efforts to capture bin Laden and the leaders of his al Qaeda network, but the Muslim country has been wracked by anti-American demonstrations.
Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Islamabad today, and high on his agenda is to reassure Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that the United States will continue to support him, and to thank him for providing aid for U.S. military action despite the unpopularity of the move in his own country.
Saudi Arabian leaders are also reportedly upset by the reports of civilian casualties, and in the first official statement from the nation on the U.S.-led campaign, criticized the bombing while attempting to remain supportive of the fight against terrorism.
"We wish the United States had been able to flush out the terrorists in Afghanistan without resorting to the current action … because this is killing innocent people," Interior Minister Prince Naif told the official Saudi Press Agency. "We are not at all happy with the situation. This in no way means we are not willing to confront terrorism."
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia: Anxious Allies
Islamabad may be looking for more from Powell than just a thank-you, though. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan said his government will want to hear about how long the United States expects the bombing to continue.
"Prolongation of military operations will be a source of concern to us," Khan said. "With prolongation you can expect mishaps in which innocent civilian lives may be lost and nobody … would like to see that happen."
Muslim militants called for a nationwide strike to protest the government's cooperation with the United States, and thousands of stores remained closed today across the country. Particularly hard-hit were the cities of Quetta and Jacobabad, where the entire business districts were closed down.
Tensions between Pakistan and India could also create problems for U.S. plans to use bases in Pakistan as a staging area for potential ground action in Afghanistan, and in addition to his visit to Islamabad, Powell plans to meet Indian leaders in New Delhi.
The two nations' troops reportedly clashed across the so-called line of control in the disputed region of Kashmir today. Indian military officials told Reuters that mortars were fired at Pakistani troops trying to cross into Indian territory.
Pakistani troops returned fire in an exchange that lasted 40 minutes, according to the report. Pakistan claimed one woman was killed and 25 people were wounded.
In New Delhi, Indian officials said the United States had no role to play in the conflict between the two South Asian nations. A foreign ministry spokeswoman said Indian officials would not discuss its relations with Pakistan with the American statesman.
"We do not see absolutely any need for mediation in the context of India-Pakistan relations," Nirupama Rao said. "These are matters to be discussed between India and Pakistan in a holistic manner and the U.S. administration is well aware of this."
‘No Need to Discuss It’
The new bombing comes after Washington rejected yet another offer by the Taliban to turn over bin Laden for trial in a third country if the United States presents evidence against the accused terrorist mastermind and ends its military campaign.
"There's no need to discuss it," President Bush said on Sunday. "We know he's guilty. Just turn him over. … There's nothing to negotiate about. They're harboring a terrorist and they need to turn him over."
Washington says bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization were behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, in addition to other terrorist attacks such as the bombing of the USS Cole and two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Bush said if the Taliban wants the air attacks to end, it must turn over bin Laden and the members of al Qaeda hiding in Afghanistan and destroy any terrorist camps.
More than 5,000 people are dead, or presumed dead, after two hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers, another was flown into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Anthrax Sent to Daschle
In other developments:
Sen. Tom Daschle's office in Washington received a letter containing a powdery substance that tested positive for anthrax. The letter was postmarked Trenton, N.J., the same postmark as a letter sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw that also was contaminated with anthrax. See Story
When asked if there was evidence the anthrax-contaminated letters that have been turning up are linked to bin Laden, Bush said: "There may be some possible link. We have no hard data yet, but it is clear that Mr. bin Laden is an evil man. I wouldn't put it past him, but we don't have hard evidence yet."
In recent days there have been anthrax scares arising from letters containing suspicious powder worldwide. Among those hit were German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office, the French Space Agency and a major newspaper in Lithuania.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the current turmoil over terrorism and military action should not be used as a reason to delay a resumption of peace talks with Israel. The two met today in London, and Blair said he would like to see leaders on both sides take advantage of recent events to push harder for a resolution to the conflict.
New York City officials estimate the number of missing and presumed dead at the World Trade Center is 4,688. The number of confirmed dead is 450, and 395 remains have been identified. At the Pentagon, 189 were believed killed and another 44 were killed when the fourth hijacked jet, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in Pennsylvania.