U.S. Launches Bombing Raid Over Kabul

U.S. jets darted through the sky over the Afghan capital Saturday night, launching at least seven missiles at locations in the northern part of the city.

The city's electricity was shut down as a result of the attacks. Despite the darkness, residents could see thick smoke rising in the area north of the airport.  

Reuters also reported that three bombs were dropped on Kabul, causing immense explosions and creating a fireball above the city's airport.  The Afghan Islamic Press, citing witnesses, said that the southern city of Kandahar was the target of additional attacks, according to Reuters.

Al Qaeda issued a statement following the attacks warning the U.S. and Britain to leave the Arabian Peninsula. A White House spokesperson said the President saw the statement as "more propaganda."

The latest military action follows President Bush's second failed attempt to negotiate with the Taliban. Earlier in the day, Afghanistan's ruling militia refused to turn over suspected terror ringleader Usama bin Laden despite the U.S. president's offer to "reconsider what we're doing to your country."

"You still have a second chance," Bush said in a news conference Thursday. "Just bring him in, and bring his leaders and lieutenants and other thugs and criminals with him."

Mullah Khaksar Akhund, the Taliban’s deputy interior minister said Saturday, "We will not hand over him to America without getting credible evidence about his involvement in terrorism. Our policy is still the same."

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush referred to this offer and said: "They did not listen, and they are paying a price." 

He also said the American and British air campaign against Taliban military targets had met its objectives. "We have disrupted the terrorist network inside Afghanistan," he said. "We have weakened the Taliban's military. And we have crippled the Taliban's air defenses." 

As negotiation attempts failed warplanes took to the skies in a seventh straight day of airstrikes, pummeling areas around Kandahar and Kabul. The capitol's airport was hit in a pre-dawn effort and residents nearby the bombed area said at least one civilian was killed and four hurt. Four homes were destroyed.

"We have no way to rebuild our homes," said Mohammed Shoaib, whose house was one of those wrecked. "What will we do?"

"Usama is not in Kabul – he is not living in mud houses of poor people," said another Kabul man, moneychanger Mohammed Wali. "We should not be attacked."

The southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold, was targeted in a midmorning strike. In Kabul, Taliban Information Minister Kudarat Ullah Jamal said the city's airport was hit.

He said several houses were destroyed and "a lot of people" killed. The claim could not be independently verified.

The Saturday morning airstrikes followed a hiatus in the U.S.-led campaign for most of Friday, the Muslim holy day. The air assault was launched Oct. 7 after weeks of fruitless efforts by the United States to get the Taliban to hand over bin Laden, the key suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In neighboring Pakistan, a new confrontation was simmering between the government and anti-U.S., pro-Taliban demonstrators.

A radical Islamic leader, Abdullah Shah Mazar, was detained Saturday by authorities in the port city of Karachi, and hundreds of his followers staged a sit-down strike in protest.

On Friday, thousands of demonstrators clashed with police in Karachi, hurling stones and setting a fast-food restaurant ablaze. Police shot tear gas, and eventually gunfire, in response.

Meanwhile, U.S. allies challenged the veracity of a Taliban report that 200 villagers were killed in a missile strike this week. British officials dismissed Taliban claims of mass civilian deaths as propaganda.

Independent verification of reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is almost impossible. Foreign journalists are barred, and Afghan journalists are not allowed to move about and report freely.

Reports of civilian deaths caused unease for Pakistan, already facing an angry backlash from militant Islamic groups over its support for the United States against bin Laden and the Taliban.

"We have been assured again and again that only terrorists and those who provide protection to terrorists will be targeted," Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan told journalists on Friday.

The British undersecretary of defense, Lewis Moonie, suggested Friday there could be a slowdown in bombing for the next several days because of the Muslim festival commemorating the mystical journey of the Prophet Muhammad to heaven.

"I would not be surprised if activity was much less over this weekend," he said in London on Friday.

Commemorations vary among Muslim countries, with some celebrating the holiday Friday or Saturday and others not until Monday. It is observed Monday in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Also Saturday, the Taliban dismissed persistent reports of mass defections of its fighters to the opposition alliance in Afghanistan's north.

"These reports are baseless – there are no defections among the Taliban," said Jamal, the Taliban information minister. "We are united and ready to fight against opposition and American troops. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the cause of Islam."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.