- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged yesterday that air power alone cannot achieve military objectives in Afghanistan, but said he likely will not announce any ground operation until "we have an activity that is significant and noticeable."

"Our task is to go in and get the terrorist networks and end that threat from Afghanistan," he said.

Meanwhile, a Navy official said the carrier USS Enterprise, which was held in the region past the normal six-month deployment period, will leave the war in the coming days. The departure will leave three carriers within striking distance of Afghanistan: the newly arrived Theodore Roosevelt, the Carl Vinson and the Kitty Hawk.

Mr. Rumsfeld spent 45 minutes at a press conference finessing questions of whether U.S. commandos have or will be inserted into Afghanistan to attack the ruling Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist army. As he spoke, Navy and Air Force warplanes kicked off the 12th day of strikes designed to topple the Taliban regime and destroy and disrupt the terrorists' network and their camps.

"There are things you can find from the air," Mr. Rumsfeld said in what has become a daily Pentagon briefing on the war by him or top aides. "You can find clusters of forces. You can find certain types of weaponry. But you cannot really do sufficient damage in that regard, particularly in a country that has been at war for ages and ages and has been pummeled. [Warplanes] can't crawl around on the ground and find people."

Added Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, "We have said earlier that we're going to use the full spectrum of our military capability."

Neither of the top defense leaders committed themselves to sending ground troops into Afghanistan. But Mr. Rumsfeld previously has said that covert commandos will play a big role.

Speculation has intensified this week on the use of commandos. Some covert warriors, including crack Army Delta Force soldiers, have been poised to strike in the region for weeks. A contingent of Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs is aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. Air Force special operations AC-130 gunships began attacking the Taliban on Monday. The aircraft is normally deployed to augment ground troops, especially commandos.

"At the moment, we've decided not to discuss exactly everything we're doing with respect to Afghanistan," said Mr. Rumsfeld.

Asked if U.S. troops have operated in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom, the defense secretary said, "We have decided that until we have an activity that is significant and noticeable, that it's probably not useful to get into those kinds of questions because they can change from time to time."

A senior U.S. official has told The Washington Times that a debate has been going on within the Bush administration on whether to publicly discuss and show videotape of a ground operation following the completion of its mission.

Asked how special operations troops might fit into the current mission, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "You have to simply take the battle to them. Because every advantage accrues to the attacker in the case of a terrorist: the choice of when to do it, the choice of what instruments to use, and the choice of where to do it. All of those things are advantages of the attacker. That means that we simply must go and find them."

President Bush and NATO allies have accused bin Laden of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The second week of the campaign has seen the heaviest strikes. Planners have dispatched over 90 strike aircraft for three straight days, aiming primarily at military targets such as troops, tanks, garrisons and equipment.

Gen. Myers said warplanes bombed over 12 targets on Wednesday that included missiles, vehicles, armor maintenance and storage sites, airfields and troop formations.

Last night, U.S. aircraft continued to pound the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in southeastern Afghanistan and military targets around the capital Kabul. They are also hitting Taliban forces defending the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, as the opposition Northern Alliance continued to try to fight its way to the airport and attempt to capture the city.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the round-the-clock bombing campaign is forcing some Taliban troops out into the open. There have also been reports of some defections.

"These folks are pros," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "They're clever. They've been around a long time. They're survivors. They've changed sides three or four times, probably before, and may again. They don't need me to give them a road map."

The U.S. Navy largely has overshadowed the Air Force in a show of air power over Afghanistan. The offensive is boosting the sea service's case that large-deck carriers remain an important way for America to quickly project power overseas.

With no basing rights in the immediate area, the Air Force is sending in long-range heavy bombers while most fighter jets remain in the Persian Gulf.

The Air Force did launch its first fighter Wednesday as F-15E Eagles flew the long distance from Kuwait to Afghanistan. The aircraft is designed for low-level interdiction and can carry video-guided bombs and 5,000-pound "bunker busters."

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