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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban Fires Surface-to-Air Missiles at U.S. Jets

KORAK DANA, Afghanistan -- Taliban gunners fired missiles Wednesday at U.S. jets pounding the front line north of Kabul, and opposition commanders said they were bringing up fresh troops for a possible assault on the capital.

An American airstrike in Kabul, meanwhile, reportedly killed 22 Pakistani militants linked to Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

It was the biggest reported death toll suffered by bin Laden's allies since the air assault began Oct. 7. In Pakistan, border guards reported five powerful explosions Wednesday near a suspected tunnel complex operated by bin Laden in Afghanistan's Paktia province.

Elsewhere, six Muslims from Somalia and Sudan -- countries used by bin Laden's forces as a source of recruits -- were arrested trying to leave Afghanistan for Pakistan last weekend without visas or travel documents, Pakistani authorities said Wednesday.

An investigation was under way to determine whether they were members of bin Laden's al-Qaida network trying to flee American attacks.

In Lahore, Pakistan, the Harakat ul-Mujahedeen, a radical group linked to al-Qaida, announced that 22 of its fighters were killed Tuesday in an American attack on Kabul.

Muzamal Shah, a leader of the group, said the victims had traveled to Afghanistan to help the Taliban "devise a plan for fighting against America." They were in a meeting at a house in Kabul when a bomb hit.

Pakistani border guards at Torkham refused Wednesday to allow 11 of the bodies to be brought into Pakistan for burial. Sources close to the Harakat ul-Mujahedeen said the bodies were smuggled later into Pakistan.

The organization, which is fighting Indian soldiers in Kashmir, has been declared by the United States to be a terrorist organization.

Elsewhere, Pakistani officials reported the explosions in Paktia province appeared to be near the Gor Way Tangi area, where it is believed bin Laden maintains underground bases.

The concussion was so powerful that the officials believed 2,250 kilogram bombs were being used to collapse mountainsides and close entrances to the tunnels.

U.S. attacks this week have focused on al-Qaida and Taliban positions facing Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, in hopes that the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance can advance on those cities.

For the fourth straight day, U.S. jets streaked across the skies near this village about 50 kilometers north of Kabul, pounding Taliban positions with bombs and missiles.

Taliban fighters unleashed several surface-to-air missiles, which failed to bring down the planes. They also pounded Northern Alliance positions with artillery and mortar fire.

Saeed Mir Shah, a 24-year-old fighter with the Northern Alliance, said he counted 10 bombs over a 2-1/2 hour afternoon period. "All the houses were shaking," he said.

Amid the roar of jets and the crackle of gunfire, opposition commander Haji Bari said the Northern Alliance was bringing in thousands of new troops and weapons in anticipation of a green light from alliance leaders to march on Kabul.

"We're waiting for the order," said Bari, deputy brigade commander in the Rabat district.

However, Pakistan, a key Muslim ally in the anti-terror campaign, has opposed allowing the alliance to seize Kabul, fearing it would form a government hostile to Pakistani interests.

In Peshawar, Pakistan, representatives of Afghan tribes began a two-day meeting to discuss the formation of a broad-based government to replace the Taliban.

"This is the beginning, a turning point. I hope this will be the key to change in the government in Afghanistan," said Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani, an Afghan spiritual leader and longtime supporter of exiled Afghan monarch Zaher Shah.

Gailani said the meeting would ask the Afghan people "to revolt against the Taliban dictatorship."

It remains unclear whether the poorly armed opposition will be able to make significant gains against Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif or Taloqan. Opposition commanders say the Taliban have strengthened their own front-line positions north of Kabul in recent days in an effort to secure the capital.

In other developments:

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday he hopes the anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan can be concluded quickly but the administration is prepared to keep up the fight during the Muslim holy period if necessary.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said no link has been established between the Sept. 11 incidents and anthrax attacks that were meant to terrorize the United States.

NATO-led troops believe they have disrupted a terrorist organization in Bosnia. A local source said two recently arrested suspects were apparently members of Algerian and Egyptian terrorist organizations and a third suspect was believed to have had a relative working for the U.S. Embassy.