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News Briefs

U.S. Bombers Pound Taliban

U.S. warplanes continued to pound Taliban front-line fighters Monday as the bombing campaign in Afghanistan moved into its third week with a new emphasis: helping Northern Alliance troops advance toward the capital and other key cities.

The United States originally wanted the Northern Alliance to hold off on attacking Kabul until diplomats worked out who would rule Afghanistan if the Taliban fell. But Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday appeared to welcome a Northern Alliance advance toward Kabul. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested that air strikes around Kabul and elsewhere were designed to help the Northern Alliance move forward.

Even with U.S. help from the skies, it remains unclear whether the Northern Alliance can take these two cities. Fighting has gone back and forth around Mazar-e-Sharif for days without significant Northern Alliance gains, in part because they are outnumbered there by the Taliban, said Gen. Richard Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman.

The shift to targeting Taliban troop positions came just two days after the United States launched its first ground action inside Afghanistan, a raid by parachute-borne Army Rangers and other special forces troops on a Taliban command center used by leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and an airfield outside Kandahar, another Taliban stronghold.

Proposal on Bioterror Criticized

Public health officials from around the country Monday criticized as inadequate the Bush administration’s proposal for improving the nation’s ability to respond to bioterrorism.

The administration has proposed spending $300 million for local and state hospitals, laboratories and health departments from a $1.5 billion emergency budget being sent to Congress. The bulk of the money will be spent to stockpile a range of antibiotics, such as Cipro, and 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine.

Allan Rosenfield, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, said he expects a contingent of academic leaders to lobby Congress for much more than Thompson’s $1.5 billion.

He said the government has no choice but to stockpile smallpox vaccine in the event of an attack. “But there are a whole bunch of other things we need,” he said. “The $300 million doesn’t begin to do all those other things.”

Bush, Putin Differ on Missiles

Despite their declaration of progress toward an agreement on missile defense and arms reductions, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin remain separated by serious differences that have barely eased in two months of negotiations, a senior Bush administration said Monday.

Bush and Putin discussed missile defense and arms control issues in Shanghai on Sunday at the annual economic summit of Asian and Pacific nations. They were reported to have discussed a proposal under which Russia might accept a U.S. missile defense program in exchange for deep cuts in offensive nuclear weapons on both sides.

The administration is waiting for the Defense Department to complete a study before offering specific cuts. “This is what the Russians want to talk about,” the administration official said, describing it as “one reason why there has been no progress.”

The United States will make its offer to Moscow before Bush and Putin meet Nov. 12-14 in Washington and at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, the official said, but cautioned that a definitive pact before the November meeting “is close to impossible.”