As the thunder of renewed bombing resounded, rescuers dug through the rubble for 100 civilians feared killed in a village flattened by a bomb or missile near the eastern city of Jalalabad. More than 50 bodies had already been pulled from the ruins, the Afghan Islamic Press said, bringing to around 220 the death toll in air raids since Sunday in pursuit of Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and his Taliban protectors.
Thursday's raids started before dark with a sortie over the capital Kabul and strikes on the airport in the north and the munitions dump to the south. "A column of smoke is rising above it," a witness said after the airport was hit. "People are panicked, running away for cover."
"There are explosions and flashes every 10 seconds or so," said another witness of the strike to the south. "I think it must have hit an ammunition dump." Residents saw a fighter plane streaking through the clear blue sky, anti-aircraft fire trailing behind it.
The ruling Taliban reacted furiously to the attacks, warning the United States that the real war had yet to begin. "When Americans enter Afghanistan, there will start the real war," said the isolated government's only international envoy, Ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef.
"America is thirsty for more bloodshed in Afghanistan," he told a news conference. "The number of casualties is increasing with the passage of time. This is a gift of America to the innocent people of Afghanistan."
He said the U.S. strikes aimed at flushing out bin Laden and the hardline Islamist Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had failed and both were still safe. Residents fleeing the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, however, said Mullah Omar's 10-year-old son and stepfather had been killed in a direct hit on one of his houses.
U.S. officials said earlier that two adult members of Mullah Omar's family had been killed. Ambassador Zaeef refused to confirm it, saying only: "All Afghans are his relatives." Jalalabad, long surrounded by guerrilla training camps for bin Laden's al Qaeda network, had come under particularly heavy bombardment on Wednesday.
The Taliban said 15 people died when a mosque was struck in Surkhrod suburb, in addition to the razing of Khorum village. Mullah Muhammad Akhtar Usmani, a local Taliban commander, told Reuters that 15 were killed in Kandahar, many of them women and children, but no one from the military.
"They were all civilians," he said. The bombardment raged for hours, prompting an exodus of refugees towards Pakistan, their belongings piled hastily onto donkeys. Others crossed the rugged and porous border on camels.
"Civilians are being killed. What could be bigger terrorism than this?" AIP quoted Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi as saying. Muttaqi said the Taliban - who have imposed a draconian rule on Afghanistan modelled on a 1,300-year-old Islamic Utopia - would not easily be defeated.