The United States and Great Britain today launched a massive air and missile strike on targets in Afghanistan, responding to the terrorist attacks that left thousands of people dead or missing in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The first explosions were reported around the capital, Kabul, shortly after nightfall local time (about 12:30 p.m. ET) and power and telephone service was quickly knocked out in parts of the city, leaving them lit only by the light of Taliban anti-aircraft fire and the blasts from incoming bombs and missiles.
There was a break in the bombing for several hours, but at around 2:30 a.m. Monday local time bombs and missiles again began falling on Kabul and other cities around Afghanistan.
The Taliban defense ministry in Kabul was reportedly hit in the early moments of the attack.
Other strikes in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, where the Taliban regime headquarters many operations, reportedly destroyed the airport and much of their central command structures. An airbase in the northwestern city of Herat was also reportedly destroyed.
Specific types of targets included: early warning radars, airfields with aircraft, a single tank formation with troops, command and control facilities, training camps, and fixed surface-to-air missile sites.
"On my orders, the U.S. military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan," President Bush said. "These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime."
The forces used in the bombing included 15 land-based bombers and 25 carrier-based strike aircraft, as well as at least 50 Tomahawk missiles launched from U.S. and British submarines. U.S. officials said there were no reports of any U.S. aircraft being lost in the raids.
Shortly after Bush addressed the American public, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a televised address and confirmed that missiles were launched from a British submarine.
"We have set the objectives to eradicate Osama bin Laden's network of terror and to take action against the Taliban regime that is sponsoring him," he said.
Bush said several other nations, including Canada, Australia, Germany and France, have pledged forces to the operation.
"More than 40 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and across Asia have granted air transit or landing rights. Many more have shared intelligence. We are supported by the collective will of the world," said Bush.
Sources at the Pentagon said the bombing attack targeted Taliban anti-aircraft and radar installations, possibly clearing the way for strikes against other targets, and for humanitarian aid to be airlifted in to needy Afghans.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today mistakenly told reporters that planes began dropping 37,500 rations of food and medicine about two hours after the bombing started; that is expected to happen later.
The ruling Taliban organization in Afghanistan has been harboring indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden, and elements of his organization al Qaeda. U.S. officials blame him and al Qaeda for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bin Laden’s Call to Arms
Shortly after the attacks began, the Arabic television network Al Jazeera broadcast a pre-taped statement from an al Qaeda spokesman and then bin Laden himself, calling on the Muslim world to respond to the U.S.-led raids.
"This is the United States, full of fear, from its northern border to its southern border, from its eastern border to its western border … tasting something that we've been tasting for years," bin Laden said.
"And to America, I stay to it and to its people this: I swear by God the Great, America will never dream nor those who live in America will never taste security and safety unless we feel security and safety in our land and in Palestine," bin Laden said.
Though bin Laden had reportedly denied any involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks that felled the World Trade Center Towers and damaged the Pentagon, in the taped statement he offered strong praise to those who carried them out.
"When God directed some of the Muslim vanguards and were able by his blessing to destroy its landmark, we ask God to give them place in paradise," he said.
The tape was delivered to Al Jazeera's offices in Kabul this morning, hours before the bombing began on Taliban and al Qaeda targets throughout Afghanistan.
"It is very clear, every Muslim, after what happened today, and after the American officials said what they said — they have started the war and have begun a coalition against us," bin Laden said. "Now they are out to fight Islam. They are saying this war is against terrorism. Now I say, the world is divided into two sides, the side of faith and the side of infidelity. Now, every Muslim has to stand up and support Islam and wipe out this act of aggression."
Bin Laden's remarks came after a man identified as an al Qaeda spokesman delivered a similar call to arms.
"We are issuing this call to members of the Muslim faith and the followers of Muhammad … you have to get on your horses and start your fight," the spokesman said.
Taliban Calls Bombing ‘Terrorist Act’
The spokesman said that the Soviet Union's 10-year war in Afghanistan brought about the fall of the Soviet state, and said that the United States had apparently not learned from what happened to its former Cold War foe.
A spokesman for the Taliban, which earlier today offered to detain bin Laden and put him on trial in an Islamic court, said that the attacks put America and its allies in the role of terrorists.
"This attack by America is a terrorist act," the Taliban envoy to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said according to Afghan Islamic Press.
"We tried hard to find a solution to the problem, but America chose the path of its power and arrogance," he said. "We cannot hand over Osama to America. Poor and common Afghans will die, for which America will be responsible. This is an attack on an independent country. We will fight to the last breath."
When asked if bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had survived the opening salvoes of the U.S. and British bombing, Zaeef said, "Yes, thanks be to God."
Weeks of Preparation
The White House continued to work on maintaining its coalition of support for taking military action in the hours leading up to the raids themselves.
Bush called leaders in Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Canada, Pakistan, France, Germany, Russia and India to alert them of the impending action today.
The attacks come after weeks of diplomatic and military preparation by the Bush administration, including a last-minute trip by Rumsfeld to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan, seen as key staging areas for military action against Afghanistan.
Two Navy aircraft carriers, the USS Enterprise and the USS Carl Vinson, are in the region, along with accompanying guided missile cruisers and destroyers, and attack submarines. Two others, the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, are headed to the region.
U.S. Navy fighters were launched from both the Enterprise and the Vinson, according to sources at the Pentagon.
Gulf War-Like Coalition
The campaign to build international support has been wide-ranging, with the administration seeking to draw Russia into an alliance against terrorism, and working hard to reinforce its message to Arab and Muslim nations that the assaults would be against the Taliban as a supporter of terrorism and against bin Laden and al Qaeda, not the people of Afghanistan.
The first official words of condemnation of the bombing came from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. A spokesman for the Lebanese government said it was a "dangerous matter" for the United States to impose its definition of terrorism on the world.
A statement from the government of Iraq called the bombing "treacherous aggression" and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said it was "unacceptable."
Bush and other senior officials also spoke with numerous allied and friendly governments and others in the region to build support for U.S. military action. The administration said it has received expressions of support from a wide range of countries, including the mostly Muslim countries Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkmenistan.
In 1998, the United States launched a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against suspected bin Laden terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, and a suspected chemical weapons factory in Sudan, following attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 212 people and wounded 4,650.
U.S. officials believe bin Laden's al Qaeda aided in the 1995 attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, provided a safehouse to the 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and was involved in the attacks against U.S. soldiers in Yemen and Somalia in the early 1990s, two U.S. embassies in Africa 1998, and the warship USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000.
In other developments today:
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said that 393 bodies have been recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center, and 335 of those have been identified. The total number of people missing at the site stands at 4,979.
U.S. diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia have been closed until further notice. "In response to the military action the embassy will be closed. We will inform the wardens when the U.S. missions will reopen," said a statement on the embassy telephone, which also advised U.S. government personnel to keep their children home from school on Monday and to restrict their movement to "essential travel only."
President Bush attended a ceremony honoring 101 firefighters who died last year and praised the bravery of more than 300 who perished when the World Trade Center collapsed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
"Our nation still mourns," he said. "The courage and loss we saw in New York we've seen in every community that has laid a firefighter to rest," the president said at the 20th annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial service.
British journalist Yvonne Ridley was apparently still in a Kabul jail when the U.S.-British attack on Afghanistan began hours before she was to have been handed over to British authorities.
Also being held in a Taliban jail were eight foreign aid workers detained in the Afghan capital since August on charges of spreading Christianity. Ridley's Pakistani lawyer had been allowed to meet them, a spokeswoman for her newspaper the London Sunday Express said on Saturday.