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The United States and Britain are striking military installations in cities throughout Afghanistan.

The mission, called Enduring Freedom, follows the ruling Taliban regime's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden, a suspected terrorist considered responsible for terror attacks on the United States on September 11.

Israeli defense officials are meeting to discuss the repercussions of the mission on Israel, if any. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres does not believe Israel is any direct danger at this stage, he said.

The first wave of attacks began at 12:45 EDT. Sources told CNN that a second, more intensive volley of attacks on Kandahar began about 45 minutes later. Military installations at Kandahar were destroyed in the first wave of air strikes at about 16:30 GMT, as people fled the city, and explosions were heard in blacked-out Kabul.

Waves of heavy bombing are expected to continue all night. Pakistan has confirmed that the attackers are using its airspace, CNN reports.

Northern cities Takhar, Konduz and Mazar a-Sharif may also have been attacked, but those reports are unconfirmed, CNN reports. Explosions were also reportedly heard by Jalalabad, in the east. Pentagon officials told CNN the attacks include strikes by U.S.-based B-2 bombers and B-52 and B-1 bombers flying from the British base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The U.S. has issued a world-wide travel warning for all its citizens. Vice president Dick Cheney has been moved to a secure location, Britain's Sky News reports.

American forces are firing Tomahawks at specific targets, including Taliban training camps. Britain is firing missiles from submarines, U.K. prime minister Tony Blair said, adding that bin Ladin's el-Qaeda network has also threatened Britain and other European countries.

Retaliation for attacks on U.S.
The military attack, a joint effort by the U.S. and Britain at this stage, is retaliation for the series of terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11 that killed more than 5,000 people.

Several other countries, including France, Australia, Germany, Canada and others have pledged military assistance as the mission unfolds. The U.S. says that some 40 countries have agreed to provide backing.

The action follows the Taliban's refusal to hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is held responsible for the attacks. The Taliban have rejected the demands.

The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, said the U.S. strikes on his country were a "terrorist" attack, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said.

"Poor and common Afghans will die, for which America will be responsible. This is an attack on an independent country. We will fight to the last breath," he said.

Notice to Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is convening a meeting tonight of top-level defense officials to discuss the ramifications of the U.S. attack on Israel.

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Sharon said that Israel would support the Americans in their fight, but that Israel is not a side in the war, according to Israeli news site Ynet.

Israeli defense sources said that Israel did not receive notice ahead of the attack's start. Israel has asked the U.S. to advise in advance of any other moves that might directly affect Israel, such as an American attack on Iraq.

Asked whether Israel might be the target of attacks as a consequence of the assault on Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said: "At this stage I don't see a danger of this kind."

A leader of the Afghan opposition movement Northern Alliance, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, called on Afghanis to keep away from military installations.

Abdullah said that his movement has been coordinating its actions with the United States. Today the U.S. ordered the Alliance to cordon off the airspace over the area it controls, about 10% of Afghanistan's area, he said.

Bush address on TV
"More than two weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands: Close terrorist training camps, hand over leaders of the Al Qaeda network and return all foreign nationals, including American citizens unjustly detained in our country," U.S. president George Bush said. As none of these demands were met, "now, the Taliban will pay a price¿ We are supported by the collective will of the world."

The United States designated bin Laden's al Qaeda organization a terrorist group back in 1999. The organization is suspected or orchestrating bombings of American embassies in eastern Africa, where hundreds of people were killed.

Results cannot be expected quickly, Bush warned. The United States will also be air-dropping food to "needy Afghan people" to demonstrate its war was not against them, he said.

The Pentagon said the coalition was targeting air defenses, terrorist training camps and other strategic military targets linked to the Taliban.

Osama bin Laden reportedly granted a rare television interview to al-Jazeera. Americans will never feel safety and security until we (Moslems and Palestinians) feel safe and secure, bin Laden has been quoted as saying.

Taliban prepared to try bin Laden, prepare for war
Taliban said Sunday they were ready to try the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, but were preparing for war by deploying thousands more fighters to defend against U.S. attack.

"If America is convinced that they have solid evidence, we are ready for his (bin Laden's) trial in Afghanistan," Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef told reporters.

Asked if there was a sufficient case to try the Saudi-born militant for September 11 attacks in which airliners flown by suicide hijackers flattened the World Trade Center and sliced into the Pentagon, Zaeef said: "Yes," Reuters reports.

But meanwhile the Taliban has threatened to attack Uzbekistan or any other neighboring country allowing the Americans to use its territory to launch hostilities.

The Russian news agency Interfax says that Taliban forces armed with long-range artillery and anti-aircraft missiles are making their way to Uzbek territory.