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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Strikes Target Taliban Home Base

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Striking the Taliban on home ground, U.S. warplanes pounded the area around the southern Afghan city of Kandahar Tuesday night for the second time in 12 hours. The remote northwestern city of Herat was also hard hit.

The raids ushered in a third straight night of air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition seeking to punish Afghanistan's rulers for sheltering Osama bin Laden, believed to have masterminded the devastating attacks four weeks ago on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Raids the previous night in the capital, Kabul, killed four civilians working for a UN-affiliated mine-clearing agency -- the first confirmed civilian deaths of the air campaign.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the first two days of air strikes were so successful that U.S. and British warplanes can fly at all hours with minimal concern about air defense threats. "We believe we now are able to carry out operations more or less around the clock," Rumsfeld said.

The latest salvos blasted the outskirts of Herat, near the Iranian border. The airport was hit following unsuccessful cruise missile strikes in the area Monday night, Afghan officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In Kabul, Taliban gunners opened up Tuesday night with heavy burst of anti-aircraft fire and the roar of jets could be heard overhead. However, there was no immediate indication of any bombing.

Taliban radio has been off the air since strikes the previous night wrecked transmission facilities, and the power has been cut every evening as strikes begin.

"Once again the dark storm is about to begin for us," said vegetable vendor Jamal Uddin, shutting down his shop as the lights went out Tuesday night. "We just sit in the dark, watching the sky, waiting to die."

Before the night's sorties began, the ruling Taliban said bin Laden was alive and well and still in the country. The Taliban also touted the fact that its supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had so far escaped too, despite his home being repeatedly targeted.

The house, about 15 kilometers outside of Kandahar, came under attack again Tuesday night, said officials speaking on condition of anonymity. Mullah Omar was continuously contacting senior Taliban commanders by radio to assure them he was alive and in command, they said.

Afghan sources, contacted from Pakistan, said communications and air defenses at Kandahar airport had taken a beating. The sources said that U.S. aircraft had been flying almost continual sorties over Kandahar during the day Tuesday, presumably to determine what air defenses remain intact.

A Taliban soldier, reached by telephone at the Kandahar garrison after nightfall, said Taliban gunners were trying to hit the attacking aircraft, but they were flying too high.

The Taliban claimed Tuesday that dozens of people have been killed in the U.S.-led raids. There was no independent confirmation of that figure.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban envoy to Pakistan, told CNN that bin Laden had survived the raids so far, and that the Taliban would not be handing him over. "He is alive, his health is very good, and he is in Afghanistan," the envoy said. Asked if the Taliban planned to hand him over, Zaeef replied: "No."

In daylight strikes Tuesday -- the first since the bombardment began -- areas near Kabul and Kandahar were hit. It was not clear whether the planes were American. However, the strikes in Kandahar would have been difficult for the rebel alliance fighting to dislodge the Taliban to carry out.

The Taliban held the United States responsible for the daytime raids.

Military spokesman Navy Captain Tim Taylor said officials would not comment on each individual strike because they are part of a "continuous operation."

Monday's sorties included five long-range bombers -- a pair of B-2 stealth bombers from the United States and three B-1Bs from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. They joined 10 strike planes launched from aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea to deliver bombs and missiles against air defense and other military targets across Afghanistan.

n?A French journalist disguised as a woman was arrested Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan along with two Pakistani companions, a news agency and relatives of the Pakistanis said. The Afghan Islamic Press Paris Match said the reporter, Michel Peyrard of Paris Match, will be charged with espionage.