- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

U.S. warplanes attacked Taliban forces fleeing northern Afghanistan yesterday as opposition Northern Alliance troops advanced farther south and into the capital of Kabul.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said U.S. Special Forces teams were in Kabul and also were working with opposition forces in southern Afghanistan to increase pressure on the ruling Taliban militia.
The defense secretary spoke as the war in Afghanistan took its first dramatic turn in favor of U.S. interests with the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance.
The Islamic-militant Taliban regime appeared to be on the verge of falling, U.S. intelligence officials said.
In Kabul, Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said all Afghan factions except the Taliban could join negotiations for a new coalition government. He also asked the United Nations to send envoys to assist a peace process, the Associated Press reported from the Afghan capital.
"The gains that have been made on the ground that have been to the detriment of the Taliban and the al Qaeda forces are clearly helpful in assisting the coalition in improving its prospects to track down both the leadership of Taliban and al Qaeda, but also to find their forces and destroy them," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.
The main military objective remains "unquestionably tracking down the leadership in al Qaeda and Taliban," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the capture of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and the drive into Kabul have forced Taliban forces out of hiding.
"When they're buried and hunkered down in tunnels and caves and in the sides of hills, they're not visible, and they're much more difficult to get at," he said. "Right now, they are in many instances visible, and it is possible to go after them."
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said opposition gains since last week reached the point where the Northern Alliance had taken control of half the country.
The four-star general also praised the work of Special Forces troops who assisted the Northern Alliance by targeting U.S. bombing runs on the Taliban.
"While the situation is still dynamic, a few facts are clear," Gen. Myers said. "Starting with the attack on the key northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif on the 9th, Northern Alliance commanders have now taken all northern provinces. By Monday morning, they had fundamentally cut Afghanistan into two areas of control, but we must keep in mind that pockets of resistance do remain."
The advance into Kabul came despite an appeal last week from President Bush for the Northern Alliance to hold off entering the capital.
U.S. air strikes, however, continued to open up pathways for the opposition to advance on the capital and by Monday night they had reached the outskirts of the city, as Taliban forces fled south to their stronghold of Kandahar.
A small force of alliance troops had entered the city and the main force had stayed on the outskirts. Some alliance fighters hunted Taliban troops and Arab-Afghan allies, killing at least 11 Pakistanis and Arabs who fought with the Taliban.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the small number of U.S. Special Forces troops in Kabul were with alliance forces to try to "create order" but were unable to police the entire city.
"There are not sufficient [U.S.] forces to monitor or police the entire city," he said. "They are a sufficient number that they can give advice and counsel to the people who are in the city, the leadership, and that they can report back [what] they see."
Anti-Taliban forces also advanced on the ruling militia near Kandahar, and an opposition commander said that city was facing an anti-Taliban insurrection. At least 200 Taliban fighters mutinied in Kandahar and fighting broke out near the city airport, the Associated Press reported, quoting a Taliban official in Pakistan.
Unconfirmed reports also indicated an uprising in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
The alliance at first intended to only threaten Kabul from the outskirts but decided to advance upon seeing the Taliban flee and spotting breakouts of looting, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
U.S. warplanes bombed caves and other locations where al Qaeda leaders and members were thought to be hiding, U.S. defense officials said.
Gen. Myers showed a reconnaissance photograph of an Afghan mosque near a residential area that was surrounded by Taliban tanks in an effort to force U.S. bombing raids to cause collateral damage by striking them.
The Pentagon also released gun-camera video showing precision bombing attacks on Taliban troops retreating south.
Asked why the Pentagon was targeting forces on the run, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "They are not surrendering, they're not throwing down their weapons, they're moving their vehicles, and it is a perfectly legitimate and attractive target, and we intend to take every opportunity to do that."
Mr. Rumsfeld said the location of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader believed to be behind the September 11 attacks on America, was not known, although the Saudi-born terrorist surfaced last week in an interview with a Pakistani newspaper.
Mr. Rumsfeld said that four weeks of bombing had strained relations between the Taliban and al Qaeda.
"Furthermore, it should be pointed out that we have substantial rewards out for information and for the locations of those folks," he said. "And you know, it may very well be that money will talk at some point."
Mr. Rumsfeld sought to dampen expectations that the Afghan opposition advances would lead to an end of the conflict.
"This effort against terrorism and terrorists is far from over," he said. "The war is not about one man or one terrorist network or even one country. It's about a problem that infects this globe of ours with a number of terrorist networks and cells in dozens and dozens of countries."
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists could flee, reorganize in the south or head for the countryside, or defect to the opposition.
"If they reorganize in the south, we are going to get them," he said. "If they go to ground, we will, as the president said, root them out, and if they decide to flee, I doubt that they'll find peace wherever they select."
The fleeing terrorists could relocate to Somalia or Sudan or seek the support of terrorist states like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea or others, Mr. Rumsfeld said.


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