- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

America last night started the ground war against terrorism, sending a team of Army commandos into southern Afghanistan to attack a Taliban target.
A senior U.S. official said elite Army Special Forces fought Taliban troops around an airfield south of Kandahar, the regime's stronghold.
The commandos completed their mission and withdrew late last night, the official said. There was no confirmation of the mission from the Pentagon, which had made no public statement on the raid last night.
Also last night, a helicopter supporting the military campaign crashed in neighboring Pakistan, killing two American soldiers.
"Two U.S. military personnel were killed today in Pakistan as a result of a helicopter accident while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom," the Pentagon said in a brief statement that did not name the soldiers.
Military sources told The Washington Times that the accident was not related to the commando operation.
Two U.S. military officials said the operation was executed by a mixed team of about 100 Rangers, Green Berets and Delta Force commandos.
President Bush approved the mission. He was briefed on it early today while attending an economic summit in China.
The president declared war on international terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. His objectives include toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, destroying the al Qaeda terror network that regime shelters and eliminating its notorious leader, Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.
There were no immediate report late last night on any other casualties or the mission's success.
The mission called for hitting a target near Kandahar, the political and military headquarters of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia, the senior U.S. official said. The commandos were inserted into the area around 7 p.m. EDT, or about 3 a.m. today in Afghanistan.
The nighttime raid came on the 13th day of the around-the-clock U.S.-led air assault on Taliban and terror targets in Afghanistan. The campaign has badly damaged enemy air defenses and made air operations safer for American aircraft, which likely supported last night's action.
The official said last night's operation is the first in what likely will be scores of covert operations aimed at killing members of the Taliban militia and the al Qaeda network throughout the country. He predicted the clashes would be "fierce and bloody."
U.S. special-operations soldiers have moved in and out of Afghanistan for several weeks in preparation for what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said will be "sustained" anti-terrorism operations there.
The senior U.S. official said last night's raid was not the first one planned. He said Army commandos had planned to attack a Taliban target near Kabul earlier this week. Commanders scrubbed the mission due to poor weather a dust storm.
"The plan was to kill Taliban," said the official, referring to the canceled raid.
The Washington Times quoted an official Monday as saying the Pentagon had picked the first target for the ground phase of the war and it would happen "very soon."
That day, the Pentagon began sending into battle low-flying AC-130 gunships, in a sign that Taliban air defenses were so weak the U.S. aircraft could drop lower and specifically go after enemy ground troops. It was also a sign that the landscape is becoming less threatening to helicopters, a commando's main means of transportation.
To finish the Pentagon's stated job of destroying bin Laden's al Qaeda network of about 3,000 soldiers, air power now shares the stage with ground action.
Army commandos, working off exact intelligence on Taliban and al Qaeda troop locations, will move in under cover of darkness to quickly attack and then retreat.
At a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, a deputy director for operations, seemed to lecture the press corps for reporting movements of special-operations troops, who rely on absolute operational security.
"As capable as these forces are, I think the reason is clear," the admiral said. "If or when they are on the ground, being there would make them the most vulnerable individuals engaged in this campaign. And I will not discuss any matters that could possibly put our people at risk. I hope that you will understand. I'm sure that the families of those brave young warriors will understand."
This week, Mr. Rumsfeld began preparing the public for the inevitable insertion of ground troops.
"[Warplanes] can't crawl around on the ground and find people," the defense secretary said, drawing an image of the dirty war it will take to uproot terrorists in the mountainous, cave-laden country.
Mr. Bush has said he wants bin Laden "dead or alive" for masterminding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 5,000 people, most of whom were civilians.
"The military role will be over there when the Taliban and the al Qaeda are gone," Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday. "That's what this is about."
The USS Kitty Hawk, one of four Navy carriers operating near Afghanistan, has becoming a floating commando base. Army Green Berets, Navy Seals and Black Hawk helicopters are on board. Commandos are also expected to launch raids from Oman in the south and Uzbekistan in the north.
While U.S. Army commandos fought in the south, Afghanistan's opposition Northern Alliance kept up the fight north of the capital, Kabul.
The Pentagon seemed to send conflicting signals yesterday on whether targets are picked by planners to help the anti-Taliban Alliance seize the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul.
Mr. Rumsfeld, en route to the B-2 bomber home of Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "There is good coordination from the air with the ground in some places, particularly in the north."
But Adm. Stufflebeem said, "When the time would appear right, we'll do what is necessary to get rid of those military portions of Taliban that may or may not be directed against Northern Alliance."
On the overall campaign, the United States continued Thursday to mount heavy, 24-hour-a-day bombardments, Adm. Stufflebeem said.
More than 90 strike aircraft went after targets that included military storage facilities, surface-to-surface missiles, troop deployments and airfields. The 18 target areas did not include so-called "emerging targets" of moving troops and vehicles that pilots strike from their geographic "kill boxes."
The admiral showed a video of a strike on a garrison near Kandahar.
U.S. forces pummeled the site this week, sending in the AC-130 gunships to spray cannon fire on what is considered elite Taliban forces. The Pentagon strategy is to disperse and drive the Taliban and al Qaeda from the key city. The exodus deprives them and supreme ruler Mullah Mohammed Omar, of any cohesive central command.
Asked if any troops inhabited the garrison, Adm. Stufflebeem contended their presence or absence did not matter.
"That is part of systematically taking away that military capability," he said. "There now is not a garrison at that location to come back to, to refresh, to retrain and re-equip in."
Adm. Stufflebeem also claimed the bombing has accomplished an important milestone.
"We are confident that their communications have been severed" between the Taliban leadership, he said. U.S. munitions have hit numerous command and control centers and knocked out Kabul's Chinese-built telephone exchange.
But Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, who has emerged as the radical Islamic group's public face, told reporters the bombing has done little damage and failed to kill any leaders.

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