- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

The Pentagon yesterday declared that 10 days of air strikes have "eviscerated" the ruling Taliban militia, as the United States greatly increased the number of troop-hunting fighter jets swarming over Afghanistan.
In recounting the heaviest two days of bombing, officials disclosed that for the first time all four Navy carriers in the region took part in operations Monday. This included the USS Kitty Hawk, which an Army source said is carrying Army Special Forces soldiers and Black Hawk helicopters.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the Pentagon's director of operations, said Navy fighter-bombers hit sites around the important northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif. He said the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance was close to capturing the city and, with it, a critical pathway to western Afghanistan and to Kabul.
"I would say they're in danger of being cut off right now," he said.
He also said the bombing hammered forces protecting Kabul to the north, meeting a key demand of Northern Alliance commanders who want to start an offensive on the capital.
"We're striking Afghan Taliban military positions around Kabul, including those that protect the capital," he said.
All told, on each of the last two days, the Pentagon has put more than 100 strike aircraft in the skies, reinforced by Tomahawk cruise missiles and long-range Air Force bombers such as the B-52, B-1B and B-2 stealth planes. In previous days, the Pentagon said about 10 to 20 strike aircraft flew in any 24-hour period.
"The combat power of the Taliban has been eviscerated," Gen. Newbold said. "The campaign does include targets that are all around the country."
Gen. Newbold also said that two Air Force AC-130 Spectre gunships worked over enemy forces the past two days using the repeated volleys of their 40 mm and 105 mm cannons.
For ground troops in its cross hairs, the special-operations aircraft known as "Spooky" can be a terrifying presence as it loiters for hours, using sophisticated precision-guidance and night-sights to destroy soldiers and equipment.
"It has a large crew of specialists who are able to acquire targets to a degree that a fighter aircraft, for example, moving at over 300 knots, cannot," the general said. "There is a psychological effect in all that we're trying to do."
He said the slow-moving gunship was protected by fighter aircraft and flew at an altitude beyond the range of the "current threat," which officials say is principally artillery and portable missiles that reach about 10,000 feet.
Taken together, Gen. Newbold's briefing painted the picture of a Taliban leadership on the run and a military on a rapid decline. One official said the Taliban appears days away from collapse at the hands of relentless air strikes and ground attacks by the multiethnic Northern Alliance.
AC-130 gunships are typically used to support ground troops, including commandos. The general did not say whether American special-operations forces were used in the past two days.
U.S. officials say two AC-130s pounded forces around the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, the birthplace of the radical Islamic militia and home to supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The Pentagon considers Mullah Omar part of the Taliban's command structure and has targeted his residence and known hide-outs since bombing began Oct. 7.
The Taliban claims that both he and Osama bin Laden are still alive. Mullah Omar provided a safe haven to bin Laden in 1996 in Afghanistan, where he enlarged his al Qaeda terrorist network. The Bush administration says bin Laden masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon that killed more than 5,000 people, almost all of whom were civilians.
Gen. Newbold said the 100 strike planes, and five Tomahawk cruise missiles, hit 12 "target areas" on Monday. The sets included airfields, aircraft, anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile sites. Over the weekend, U.S. forces also bombed Kabul's main telephone exchange, which was installed by the Chinese, making it difficult for Mullah Omar to communicate with commanders.
"We struck Taliban forces in a robust way that included troop and vehicle staging areas," the three-star general said.
"We're going to keep up the pressure on the terrorists and on the Taliban leadership," he added. "The pressure will come from all elements of national power and include the military. Regardless, it's going to be relentless. The essence of what we're trying to do is to destroy the al Qaeda terrorist infrastructure and those within the Taliban leadership."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday that improved intelligence collection produced a new set of targets, not known when the operation began. He indicated the strikes could go on for weeks or months.
Gen. Newbold said the campaign, after effectively destroying air-defense missiles and radars, and unleashing more than 2,000 munitions, is now geared toward hitting military targets on the move, such as troops and tanks.
"I think you have seen over the past four or five days a shift to strike emerging targets, and that is exactly the way you'd want a campaign to go, to emphasize agility in execution."
The bombing began with two Navy carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Enterprise. Now, the Kitty Hawk and the USS Theodore Roosevelt have joined the ships in the Indian Ocean-Arabian Sea area off the coast of Pakistan, which has granted the United States airspace rights.
Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday taped an interview with Al Jazeera, a Qatar-based Arab news network used by bin Laden and al Qaeda to spread anti-American hatred. The Rumsfeld interview was part of the White House's drive to reach more Arabs to explain America's war on terrorism.

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