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TALIBAN FIGHTERS HIDING AMONG KABUL'S CIVILIANS, REFUGEES REPORT

Taliban forces are taking cover among the civilian population of Kabul and stashing their military equipment in mosques and schools to avoid U.S. airstrikes, according to refugees who have fled the capital in recent days.

Allied planes have attacked targets in and around Kabul nearly every day since the U.S.-led airstrikes began Oct. 7. The attacks are aimed at Taliban military sites. But the refugees told the Washington Post on Tuesday that many Taliban fighters are now hiding among civilians in the capital.

"The airstrikes destroyed some (military) sites, but now the Taliban come at night to the houses of the people and bring their equipment into civilian places," said Mohammad Ali, 50, a jobless former bus driver in Kabul who crossed the Taliban and opposition Northern Alliance front lines Tuesday morning.

"They come at night to schools and mosques and universities where there are lots of trees," Ali said. At one mosque in northern Kabul, the Taliban has parked 10 tanks inside the compound, he said.

"The people are very angry and worried," fearing that the tanks will attract U.S. airstrikes, he said. "For this reason, they are not going to the mosque to pray."

In Washington, a Pentagon official vowed to flush out any Afghan fighters who hide in residential areas to escape aerial attacks.

"There is not an intention to open or widen (air) attacks in the cities," Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said. "We will find other ways . . . to get at those who might cowardly decide to hide in residential neighborhoods."

Those "other ways" could include the use of commandos or other ground forces, he acknowledged Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department acknowledged Tuesday that stray bombs hit two more civilian areas in Afghanistan.

Late Sunday afternoon, a Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped a 1,000-pound bomb in an open field near a senior citizens home outside the western city of Herat, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said.

The intended target was a vehicle storage building at an army barracks approximately 300 feet from the home. Preliminary indications are that the weapon's guidance system malfunctioned, she said.

Clarke said she was not certain whether the incident corresponded to one reported by the United Nations, which said U.S. bombs hit a military hospital near Herat. The Taliban had said a strike Monday hit a Herat hospital, killing at least 100 people.

Earlier Sunday, Clarke said, a Navy F-14 Tomcat dropped two 500-pound bombs that mistakenly hit a residential area northwest of Kabul. The intended targets were military vehicles parked about one-half mile away.

The Pentagon also disclosed new details about an incident during Saturday's commando raids into Afghanistan.

An Army MH-47 special operations helicopter struck an unknown barrier while it was taking off from Afghanistan after the raid, shearing off its front landing gear, Clarke said. It continued the flight without incident and returned safely.

The chopper's wheels were displayed on television by the Taliban, which claimed to have shot down an American helicopter and foiled Saturday's raid.

In another development, a Pakistani militant group confirmed today 22 of its fighters were killed Tuesday in a U.S. attack on Kabul -- the deadliest known strike against a group linked to Osama bin Laden since the air campaign began.

In Karachi, Pakistan, Muzamal Shah, a senior official of the banned Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, said a U.S. bomb struck a house while fighters from his group were meeting there. The dead included several senior commanders, Shah said.

Some of the band had crossed into Afghanistan since the U.S. bombing began in order to help "devise a plan for fighting against America," Shah said.

Today, a group of men brought the bodies of eight of the dead Pakistani fighters to Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, hoping to bury them in their homeland. But the Pakistani border guards refused to let them cross.

In Afghanistan, U.S. air attacks continued today, with jets striking targets around Kabul and military installations at the Taliban headquarters of Kandahar, a Taliban spokesman said.

The jets streaked northward toward front-line positions of the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies facing Northern Alliance fighters.

An alliance deputy brigade commander said anti-Taliban forces were bringing in thousands of troops to reinforce their units near the front line.

However, alliance forces had not yet been told to try to seize Kabul, Haji Bari said. He complained U.S. bombardments were insufficient to dislodge the Taliban.

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