Thursday, November 8, 2001

The Pentagon is set to dispatch a fourth aircraft carrier battle group to waters near Afghanistan, and the ships could depart for the region as early as this weekend, defense officials said yesterday.
The battle group, led by the San Diego-based carrier USS Stennis, is being dispatched to provide additional aerial firepower, officials said in an interview.
“The Navy has not compromised training for this deployment,” said a senior defense official, adding that pilots had reached peak readiness levels during bombing drills at the Fallon Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center at Fallon, Nevada.
The carrier is being sent after a request from Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in the region, to help in the battle against the al Qaeda terror network and its Taliban militia backers.
A defense official said the Stennis could leave as early as this weekend. At the latest, the ship will depart later this month, three months ahead of its scheduled six-month deployment.
A second official said the Pentagon is “actively planning” to send the battle group, although as of last night there was no deployment order. “It could be going quite soon,” this official said.
The Stennis and its three squadrons of F-18 and F-14 fighters will join three carriers already being used to launch strikes: the Carl Vinson, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Kitty Hawk, which is being used as a base for special-operations troops.
The defense officials confirmed a report in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Times that Gen. Franks had asked for the carrier so he could intensify air operations against the Taliban regime and al Qaeda.
During a press conference Oct. 30 in Uzbekistan, Gen. Franks was asked about contributions from foreign nations to the U.S.-led military campaign. He said, “We do have what we need in order to be able to conduct this operation.”
Cmdr. Jack Papp, spokesman for Navy air forces in the Pacific, declined to comment on the Stennis’ early deployment.
The Stennis has not yet received a deployment order, but Cmdr. Papp said planners have the “flexibility to respond to emerging operational requirements. This ability to adjust to changing requirements represents one of the strengths of our naval forces.”
Navy aircraft are conducting most of the tactical strikes on the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. Air Force fighters are all but locked out of the action because the United States lacks basing rights in countries neighboring Afghanistan. The military is now surveying three former Soviet air bases in Tajikistan that could serve as launching pads for U.S. Air Force strike aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said yesterday that opposition forces supported by U.S. Special Forces advisers are advancing against Taliban positions in northern Afghanistan.
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. Special Forces troops working with the opposition Northern Alliance have reported “cavalry charges” by soldiers on horseback against armored vehicles.
“This is opposition forces riding horseback into combat against tanks and armored personnel carriers,” Gen. Pace told reporters at the Pentagon. “So these folks are aggressive. They’re taking the war to their enemy and ours. We are supporting them as best we can.”
The four-star general made the remarks in recapping the monthlong military campaign against Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists. He noted that it is hard to gauge the success of the opposition forces in what he called “a very fluid situation.”
“We know that the opposition is making gains,” Gen. Pace said. “We do have, as you know, some of our Special Forces folks on the ground with them. They are able to help in directing air strikes. They’re able to report on some of what they see on the battlefield, but of course, they don’t see the entire battlefield, so we don’t know the precise locations right now of all units, but we do know that the opposition forces have been making progress.”
Gen. Pace said some 80 aircraft took part in bombing raids inside Afghanistan on Tuesday. Two-thirds of the jets were involved in supporting opposition forces on the ground, and the rest bombed tunnels and caves used by Taliban and al Qaeda troops, he said.
The Pentagon released photographs showing the results of a bombing raid on a major terrorist training camp used by the Taliban and that was funded by bin Laden, the chief suspect in the September 11 attacks.
Video from an attacking bomber documented a strike on two vehicles by a laser-guided bomb. Another video clip showed a recent attack on a Taliban tank near the western town of Herat, where opposition forces are fighting.
Gen. Pace said he would not judge the Afghans’ use of horseback for military attacks, and added that the Northern Alliance is using what it has in the way of weapons and equipment.
“We are providing equipment, food, ammunition, weapons, water, food for their horses, support from the air,” Gen. Pace said. “And as we work with them, as we are able to determine what other assistance might be useful to them, we will work through that.”
The Northern Alliance forces recently received numerous armored vehicles and tanks from Russia. Horses are used in difficult terrain, U.S. officials said.
Victoria Clarke, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, said the United States is helping as many anti-Taliban forces as possible.
Gen. Pace said the Taliban is “firing back” against opposition forces in the northern area around Mazar-e-Sharif.
Reports show that the attacks by the anti-Taliban opposition have led to the destruction of enemy installations, equipment and personnel.

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