Allied bombing and missile strikes have seriously crippled Osama bin Laden’s forces in Afghanistan, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, said yesterday.
“We have taken away their ability to use their training camps. We have taken away their known infrastructure. We are striking at the caves that we have learned that they utilize or have utilized,” he said.
There is no “active evidence” that bin Laden’s al Qaeda network is operating in Afghanistan.
Damage to the leadership is not known.
“But I think it’s fair to say,” the admiral said, “that we know they are not free to operate in Afghanistan at this point because we are keeping up the pressure throughout the country.”
Keeping up the pressure is the reason the military will not halt operations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he said. Adm. Stufflebeem also reported that the U.S. military is negotiating for bases in neighboring Tajikistan.
“Airfields closer to Afghanistan would give us an advantage in being able to generate sorties,” he said. “We would hope to have a capability to get access to Afghanistan from the north and the south.”
The military currently is limited in using its lone base in neighboring Uzbekistan for search and rescue, intelligence and humanitarian operations.
Adm. Stufflebeem said U.S. air strikes have been designed to assist any push by Northern Alliance forces. “I have heard reports that they may be ready to move, but until they do, I think that it’s a bit supposition on our part,” he said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters aboard his plane on the way to Washington from India that the number of U.S. troops working with the Northern Alliance has more than doubled.
“We’ve gone two-and-a-half times what we had,” he said. “So now, instead of in two locations, we’re in four maybe more. That will accrue to our advantage over the coming period.”
The number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan are said to include scores of Army Special Forces troops, a “modest” number.
Reports from the region said heavy bombing strikes continued yesterday in areas close to Mazar-e-Sharif and north of Kabul, the capital.
Among the weapons used against Taliban positions, the Associated Press reported yesterday, is the BLU-82, a 15,000-pound bomb believed to be the world’s largest conventional bomb.
Nicknamed the “daisy cutter,” the BLU-82 uses a liquid ammonium nitrate mixture to fuel an explosion that incinerates everything within 600 yards. Each 17-foot-long BLU-82 costs $27,000. It was used to clear jungle landing zones in Vietnam, and creates a shock wave that can be felt miles away.
The decision to advance is in the hands of Northern Alliance commanders, Adm. Stufflebeem said.
“We are helping to set those conditions by prepping this battlefield and taking down Taliban resistance.”