Tuesday, November 6, 2001
W e d n e s d a y ,  N o v e m b e r  7,  2 0 0 1
Thursday, November 8, 2001

Northern Alliance Advancing Towards Mazar-e-Sharif

Excerpts from an article describing gains by the Northern Alliance in its efforts to overtake the key north Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif:

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Aided by heavy U.S. bombing, Afghan opposition forces said Wednesday that they were on the outskirts of the Taliban-controlled northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

A senior Pentagon official said the opposition troops, some of them on horseback, were making advances with the help of U.S. special forces, but he cautioned that the situation was “very fluid.”

A day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declined to assess the rebels’ progress around Mazar-e-Sharif, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged Wednesday that “we know that the opposition is making gains.”

The officer, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, said at the daily Pentagon news briefing that “we do have, as you know, some of our special forces folks on the ground with them” and that “they’re able to report on some of what they see in the battlefield.”

... Pressed to characterize the progress, Pace said: “We do know that the opposition have been attacking. They have been defending. They have inflicted casualties. And with our assistance, we have been putting airstrikes onto the Taliban forces.”

He cautioned that “information is hard to come by. It’s very fluid. There is an ebb and flow to these situations, and it can take days or even longer before you can really characterize how something is going.”

Pace described a battle zone where Northern Alliance troops were mounting old-fashioned cavalry charges, “riding horseback into combat against tanks and armored personnel carriers.”

“So these folks are aggressive,” he said. “They’re taking the war to their enemy and ours. We are supporting as best we can.”

... “The Northern Alliance can be characterized as a very light infantry force,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It’s one of their strengths that they’re accustomed to fighting with low food supplies, low ammunition, with horses aiding their mobility.”

The official said a cavalry charge could be effective against tanks because most tanks in northern Afghanistan were buried and used as artillery.

The official estimated that Northern Alliance forces had several hundred horses and said it was a logical assumption to conclude that U.S. special forces in the area could be on horseback, as well.

... Near Kabul, the capital, which has emerged as a second major battleground between the Taliban and opposition forces, witnesses said at least five waves of U.S. B-52 bombers flew Wednesday over the Taliban front line.

Plumes of smoke and dust rise after B-52
bombing near Bagram airport, 18 miles
north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, 11/07/01

Those raids and others overnight “have hit the right places,” Northern Alliance commander Asil Khan said, adding that the planes had targeted bases of Arab and Pakistani fighters from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network who had taken up positions at the front lines.

Witnesses said enormous bombs were dropped. They may have been BLU-82 “daisy cutters,” the largest conventional bombs, which U.S. forces have employed in Afghanistan to clear areas as large as 650 square yards at a time.

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  • MSNBC [link inactive]

'Shortsighted' World Lets Population Swell

Excerpts from article detailing United Nations warnings regarding the way in which developed countries are, thus far, failing to adequately address pressing problems of population growth:

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The United Nations says developed countries are not paying their share of controlling world population growth.

(click for large-size image)

... The report says human numbers have doubled since 1960 to 6.1 billion people, with most of the growth in poorer countries.

World population will grow by 50% to a medium projection of 9.3 billion by 2050, it says. The highest estimate is 10.9 billion people; the lowest is 7.9 billion.

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Landmark Smallpox Vaccine Study Underway

Excerpts from article describing one aspect of current government efforts to prepare for a potential smallpox bioterrorist attack:

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Volunteers are lining up this week to be vaccinated against smallpox, a once routine occurrence now considered extraordinary yet necessary because of recent events.

A total of 684 healthy individuals will participate in the study in an effort to increase the number of available doses from existing stocks of smallpox vaccine.

... The research study is part of an effort by the U.S. government to extend the supply of the vaccine in case the deadly virus is released as part of a bioterrorism attack.

The nation has about 15 million doses on hand; millions more are being made by pharmaceutical firms but are not yet available.

The vaccine contains no smallpox virus, and doctors stress that there is no risk of developing smallpox from the vaccine.

Indeed, prior to 1972, getting the vaccine was regarded as a harmless rite of passage: Schoolchildren received the vaccine, then went back to the classroom the same day and compared scabs later in the week. ...

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Early Clues to Modern Humans

Excerpt from article describing the discovery of 70,000 year old bone tools in Africa:

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A collection of bone tools dating back 70,000 years is raising new questions about human evolution.

The discovery suggests that our early human ancestors were far more sophisticated than previously thought.

The bone tools and flaked stone points, possibly used as spear heads, were found in a cave on the South African coast, east of Stillbaai.

... Bone tools need a high degree of skill and labour to produce, which is why archaeologists consider them a significant indicator of human development.

... According to archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood, of the Iziko-South African Museum in Cape Town, the tools show that people in Africa exhibited "modern" behaviour as far back as 80-100,000 years ago.

... This find may mark the beginning of a new understanding of the human fossil record. ...

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Taleban Murders and Rapes of Refugees

Excerpts from two articles with refugee descriptions of murders and rapes by the Taleban upon non-combatants:

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Amid scenes of poverty, chaos and piteous despair, Afghan refugees told yesterday how the Taleban have unleashed a new wave of terror in direct retaliation for America’s B52 bombing raids.

Chanting Islamic militiamen swarmed into villages behind their front lines just hours after the high-level attacks began a week ago and murdered hundreds of men, raped women and girls, and conscripted teenage boys.

The revenge attacks have triggered a fresh exodus of refugees who brave the journey across no-man’s-land to Northern Alliance territory, crowding into camps already teeming with thousands of families living with little food and no housing.

“They came the day after the bombing started and accused people of being American spies,” Buzar Boy, a farmer from the village of Dasht-i Archi, said yesterday after slipping across the front lines on horseback with his wife and five children, aged between two and thirteen.

“They raped some of the women and took away more than 100 men. Some of the younger men have been forced to join the Taleban and others have been taken to prisons in Kandahar and Mazar-i Sharif. But some have just disappeared, and we are certain that they have been killed.

“This has happened not just in our village, but in every other village in the region. The Taleban looted homes, poured petrol into the front doors and then set them ablaze.

It was not just Afghan Taleban who did this, but Pakistanis and Chechens. Uzbeks, too. And they were all as bad as each other. They screamed at us we were taking the Americans’ side, but none of us were. We just wanted to farm our land.”

It was nothing new to the people of Dasht-i Archi. When the Taleban overran the village 17 months ago they killed 50 men in a 30-day spree, shooting them and beating them to death in their homes and in the streets. The victims were ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, whom the largely Pashtun Taleban suspected of supporting the Northern Alliance.

Buzar, a careworn figure who looks a decade or two older then his 30 years, gazed around the makeshift camp at Khojamala that is now his family’s home.

The more fortunate here are living under tarpaulins, but most are surviving under shelters made of rush matting, and a few have retreated into holes that they have hacked into earth baked hard by four years of drought.

The only food is from aid agencies. Three children, aged five, three, and eight months, have died of hypothermia in the past two weeks.

More than 150 refugees have come from Dasht-i Archi since the bombing started, joining almost 1,000 people from the same village who fled to Alliance-held territory during the previous killing spree.

The refugees here say that countless families have been caught by the Taleban in the past week as they attempted the eight-hour horse ride across Kalakata ridge at night. The men are always shot and the women and children are simply sent back.

Refugees in nearby camps at Nowabad and Lala Gozar had similar tales of the Taleban terrorising civilians in retaliation for the bombing. They all said one man appears to be in command of the vengeful Taleban: Mullah Mira Ahmad, a fanatic known as “The Killer from Kandahar”. ...

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  • The Times [link inactive]

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Fleeing Afghans gunned down - The Taliban are slaughtering Afghans who try to flee the country, gunning them down in cold blood, refugees who have made it to Pakistan say.

Of a dozen Afghans interviewed, all had tales of random killings, human rights abuses and persecution. Some told of mass murders.

Ovr Mohd, 65, fled to the hills from Bamiyan to avoid the Taliban. When he returned he found his three sons shot dead.

Mr Mohd said they were targeted because they were ethnic Hazaras, whose sympathies lie with the Northern Alliance.

"When we decided to leave Afghanistan we saw the Taliban attacking people who were fleeing. People were gathering on the road to leave and they were shot. We have seen this," he said.

"I saw 50 people in front of me who were killed. They were women, children and men," Mr Mohd added, claiming the killings happened a month ago.

About 100,000 Afghans are believed to have crossed the border illegally since the US began pounding Afghanistan.

They have no identity papers and officially do not exist in Pakistan. They refuse to move into refugee camps for fear of deportation. Consequently they receive no help from aid groups.

Saeed Zaman, 35, said he witnessed similar killings in Kabul. "There is a chowk [roundabout] where the people go when they want to leave," he said.

"The Taliban are attacking them there. I saw dozens killed [on Friday]. The people were pleading to leave but the Taliban shot them. They left the bodies where they fell. The animals were eating them." ...

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Walking With Beasts

Excerpts from article describing a BBC web site / series detailing creatures appearing after the age of Walking With Dinosaurs had passsed:

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Walking with Beasts, the BBC's new digital animation of the post-dinosaur era, reveals "a land where birds eat horses".

... Beasts is the sequel to the internationally successful series Walking with Dinosaurs. It recreates the bizarre animals that emerged after dinosaurs' extinction 65 million years ago. The six-part docu-drama, constructed Jurassic Park-style using robotic models and digital animation, leads up to the emergence of modern humans. ...

Walking With Beasts

(click Brontotheres' image to access
BBC's "Walking With Beasts" web site)

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