Terrorist training camps among Afghan targets hit, British say

Monday, October 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ Some of the terrorist camps in Afghanistan targeted by U.S. and British air strikes may have been empty, but it still made sense to destroy them so they could not be used, the government said Monday.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said 30 sites were targeted and hit in Afghanistan, including the military infrastructure of the Taliban regime and bases of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.

He gave no details of the extent of damage, but emphasized that civilians had not been targeted.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday there were ``two or three dozen'' targets.

The U.S.-led coalition launched a second night of airstrikes Monday against Taliban positions near Kabul, the militia stronghold of Kandahar and near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, U.S. and Taliban officials said. The British and U.S. government comments refer to Sunday's airstrikes.

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the British defense staff, said of the 30 targets hit, three were in Kabul and four others close to other urban areas. He said the other 23 targets were in remote areas.

Asked about reports that the training camps had been abandoned and were empty, Boyce said, ``Some of the camps may be reported empty, that people have moved away. But they do flow backwards and forwards.''

Because the camps are set up in very inhospitable, difficult places, ``it will be difficult for them to recreate once they've been destroyed,'' Boyce said. ``There is certainly merit in denying those camps further use. And that is what we've done.''

In addition, Boyce said, the offensive was aimed at knocking out air defenses and Afghanistan's tiny air force. Targets included a range of facilities ``including airfields, a garrison and air defense sites capable of threatening our operations in the future,'' he said.

Further operations were imminent and British tanker and reconnaissance aircraft were being sent to the area to back up U.S. forces, he said. British submarines fired cruise missiles in the initial assault.

Hoon was asked if ground forces would be sent in to Afghanistan, and replied that it ``was clearly an option'' but that it was too early to tell what effect the air strikes would have.

``It is perfectly possible,'' he said, ``that the impact of these initial strikes and the ones that are likely to follow will have such a seriously destabilizing impact on the Taliban regime that the use of ground troops may not be possible, certainly not in a hostile environment.''

Asked if a takeover by the Afghan opposition northern alliance was a possible, and desirable, outcome of the military action, Hoon said, ``That is one of the possible outcomes that may follow from the military action and the removal of the Taliban.''

The outcome, as far as we're concerned must be a government in Afghanistan that does not tolerate terrorism within its own borders,'' he said.