- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

The U.S. last night used a special-operations gunship for the first time in its air offensive against Afghanistan, attacking concentrations of troops in the Taliban headquarters of Kandahar.
A senior U.S. official said military plans called for also using Army Delta Force commandos on the ground to attack the elite forces around Kandahar, supported by the AC-130 gunships.
But a Pentagon official last night denied that any ground troops were involved in the AC-130 mission.
The AC-130 gunship, an armed version of the Lockheed Martin C-130 cargo plane, is typically used in support of commandos or other ground troops. The crew of 13 includes five gunners, relying on an array of night-vision target systems to attack ground forces.
The aircraft is studded with 40 mm and 105 mm cannon that can lay waste to people and buildings in rapid-fire fashion. Because it is low-flying and slow, it is rarely used where military planners expect serious air defenses.
The Washington Times yesterday quoted a senior Bush administration official as saying the first offensive ground operation by commandos against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group will happen "very soon."
Mr. Rumsfeld has refused to discuss future ground missions. He repeated again yesterday his requirements for conducting "sustained" anti-terrorists operations inside Afghanistan.
He said he wants the Taliban's air defenses reduced further. He also wants to establish better communications with anti-Taliban factions on the ground.
"Then one would think that the people on the ground would be more successful against the Taliban and al Qaeda forces and that they would be more inclined to have to move and find that their numbers are being attrited in a way that is going to be discouraging for them."
The Pentagon estimates al Qaeda has 1,500 to 3,000 troops in Afghanistan. Bin Laden has a fiercely loyal security detail of about 40 soldiers.
Earlier yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld labeled the ruling Taliban militia "accomplished liars" for their claim that U.S. bombs damaged an Afghan village and killed 200 civilians.
"We do not have information that validates any of that," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "Indeed, some of the numbers are ridiculous. I think that we know of certain knowledge that the Taliban leadership and al Qaeda are accomplished liars."
In his first response to a weekend media blitz by the Taliban, who accused the Pentagon of targeting the village of Karam on Thursday, Mr. Rumsfeld said the only target in the vicinity was a cave complex stocked with munitions. The bombs, he said, scored direct hits on a tunnel entrance.
The Taliban, a radical student militia which came to power in 1996, has provided a safe haven for bin Laden, al Qaeda and their training camps. More than 5,000 U.S. civilians were killed on Sept. 11 by terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. President Bush has said bin Laden orchestrated those attacks.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said the United States struck an underground stash of weapons in a tunneled cave. The hit ignited a series of secondary explosions and fires that lasted nearly four hours. He said an analysis of the attack (likely by "bunker-buster" 5,000-pound bombs) showed the pilots scored direct hits.
"There are no bomb craters on that village," Gen. Myers said. "They hit the tunnel area. They did not hit short." Karam lies about 40 miles from Jalalabad, a northeastern city near the Pakistan border. The area is home to several bin Laden training facilities bombed earlier by U.S. forces.
"They were not cooking cookies inside those tunnels," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "You do not spend that kind of money and dig that far in and store that many weapons and munitions that it would cause that kind of sustained secondary explosions, unless you have very serious purposes for doing it."
Mr. Rumsfeld has stressed throughout the campaign that planners are taking special precautions to ensure that each site on the target menu is a military or terrorist one.
In fact, the United States has not bombed electricity generation in Kabul, according to reports from the city. Usually, air strategists target electric grids to aid in shutting down the military and generally creating chaos. Reuters news agency reported that power lines were bombed in several cities last night. The Associated Press reported from Kabul, however, that the Taliban turns off the power each night.
"Any time that the Department of Defense is engaged from the air or on the ground, we have to know that there are going to be people hurt," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Overwhelmingly, they will be people who we intend to hurt. On occasion, there will be people hurt that one wished had not been."
U.S. officials say they will admit to U.S. bombing mistakes if the evidence warrants. The Pentagon over the weekend acknowledged that a satellite-guided bomb meant to hit a helicopter instead struck homes near an airport. The Taliban said four civilians were killed.
Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers spoke to reporters as Air Force long-range bombers and carrier-based Navy jets conducted some of the heaviest raids to date, both during the day and at night.

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