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How much damage did our forces do?

PUBLISHED: 07:45 08 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:37 03 March 2010

American and British military experts were today assessing the damage done to the Taliban cause after the allies finally struck at terror chief Osama bin Laden and his protectors.

American and British military experts were today assessing the damage done to the Taliban cause after the allies finally struck at terror chief Osama bin Laden and his protectors.

Operation Enduring Freedom began with the launch of 50 Tomahawk Cruise missiles from American and UK ships and subs at 5.27pm British time yesterday.

Bombers then moved in to strike at bin Laden's al Qaida terror machine in the long-awaited reprisal for the September 11 atrocities in the US.

The targets included early-warning radar, surface-to-air missiles, airfields, aircraft, military command and control installations and terrorist camps.

Sites in and around the capital Kabul, Jalalabad in the north and the Taliban's spiritual home Kandahar in the south were believed to have been blitzed at least twice.

And anti-aircraft fire heard over Kabul shortly before midnight British time was thought to mark a third round of strikes at the city.

Huge explosions were also reported near an airport close to Herat in the west of Afghanistan and the Taliban were said to be involved in widespread battles with Northern Alliance opposition forces.

A curfew imposed on Kabul was lifted at dawn, leaving officials free to inspect the damage inflicted on the city - damage that will be visible from the allies' spy planes.

The Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan claimed that civilians were killed in the attacks.

"There were casualties," Abdul Salam Zaeef told the Associated Press. "Civilians died. It was a very huge attack.'

He refused to say how many were killed, or where they died, and did not explain where he obtained his information.

Another report from Afghanistan said 20 people had been killed.

Afghan officials said bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had survived the first wave of attacks.

US President George W Bush in Washington and Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street said they were embarking on a lengthy but victorious war.

"We are supported by the collective will of the world,' said the President in an address from the White House.

Mr Blair said: "This is a moment of utmost gravity for the world. None of the leaders involved in this action want war. None of our nations want it. We are peaceful people. But we know that sometimes to safeguard peace, we have to fight.

"Britain has learnt that lesson many times in our history. We only do it if the cause is just. This cause is just.'

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said an initial goal of the strikes was to render air defences ineffective and to wipe out the Taliban's military aircraft.

He also stressed that allied forces were already dropping humanitarian supplies to the people of Afghanistan - 37,500 rations were planned to be dropped on the first day.

A USAF pilot identified only as Woodstock told an American telephone news conference that the deployment had "come together like a finely oiled machine'.

"What I was thinking about more than anything was the mission handed to us, the fabulous training I have received throughout my career and the safety of my crew mates,' he said.

"All those things came together and it was as we trained for. It was like what we practised.'

Taliban claims that they had shot down a plane were dismissed by US officials who said none of their fighters or bombers had been hit.

The deputy Taliban ambassador to Pakistan told American broadcaster NBC that the air strikes would unite Afghans behind the regime.

Mohammad Suhail Shaheen said: "Such tactics will never achieve political goals. The former Soviet Union didn't achieve its political goals by invading Afghanistan.

"Throughout history in such cases these acts have unified the Muslim nation of Afghanistan against aggressors.'

And in a defiant video message screened on Arabic satellite station Al-Jazeera, bin Laden, said of the September 11 attacks: "America was hit by God in one of its softest spots.

"America is full of fear from its north to its south, from its west to its east. Thank God for that.'

But in a stark warning to him, Mr Blair said: "We have set the objectives to eradicate Osama bin Laden's network of terror and to take action against the Taliban regime that is harbouring them.'

Of the Taliban, he said: "They were given the choice of siding with justice or siding with terror. They chose to side with terror.'

Mr Blair will make an opening speech when Parliament is recalled this evening for the third time since the terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon to allow MPs to discuss the action.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy immediately gave the strikes their backing.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "The allied attack is, I believe, a justified action against an organisation which has put itself beyond the rule of law.

"The Taliban and bin Laden are the aggressors. The coalition is simply seeking justice for the evil attack carried out by them.'

The Conservatives were today pressing ahead with their annual conference despite the attacks.

Mr Blair spoke to French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Prime Minister spoke yesterday evening to Mr Bush from Downing Street.

Afterwards Mr Blair said: "I can confirm that last Wednesday the US government made a specific request that a number of UK military assets be used in the operation which has now begun, and that I gave the authority for these assets to be deployed.

"They include the base at Diego Garcia, reconnaissance and other aircraft and missile-firing submarines. The missile-firing submarines are in use tonight. The air assets will be available for use in the coming days.

"The US are obviously providing the bulk of the force required and leading the operation. But this is an international effort. As well as the UK, France, Germany, Australia and Canada have also committed themselves to take part in it.'

In London, extra police officers are being drafted on to the streets following the start of the military action, Scotland Yard said.

They will patrol potentially vulnerable parts of the capital in an effort to guard against possible terrorist attacks and to reassure the public.

More than 100 people gathered outside Downing Street last night to protest against the military strikes, chanting anti-war slogans through a megaphone in front of police.

Meanwhile the Foreign Office said it was still trying to confirm whether the reports that Sunday Express journalist Yvonne Ridley had been freed were accurate.

The 43-year-old reporter was arrested on September 28 near the north-eastern city of Jalalabad with two male Afghan guides while trying to report on conditions in Afghanistan.

The Taliban's Information Minister, Qatradullah Jamal, reportedly said yesterday: "Today she has been released. She is free.'

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "At the moment there is no news about her release but we are continuing to make checks.

"In the meantime, we are making it clear that the Taliban have responsibility for her safety. They have the power to release her - she is in their hands.'

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