- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday the United States would like to see the Taliban militia driven from Kabul by winter, and predicted that the opposition Northern Alliance will soon move on the Afghan capital "more aggressively."
Mr. Powell, speaking on the Sunday television talk-show circuit from the Asia-Pacific Cooperation (APEC) summit in Shanghai, didn't rule out military action through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-November.
Asked on the Fox News channel whether the United States is aiming to take Kabul and the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar by the start of winter, he said: "It would be in our interest and the interest of the coalition to see this matter resolved before winter strikes and it makes our operations that much more difficult."
While he wouldn't specify which cities the coalition hopes to capture, he said anti-Taliban forces are clearly advancing toward the capital.
"Certainly the Northern Alliance is on the march in the north toward Mazar-e-Sharif, and I think they are gathering their strength to at least invest Kabul, start moving on Kabul more aggressively," he said.
Whether alliance forces "actually go into Kabul" is "under continuing discussion" and "remains to be seen," Mr. Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition."
The United States wants the alliance, which represents mainly ethnic minorities, to be part but not necessarily a dominant force of Afghanistan's future government. The Bush administration, which has established contact on several occasions with the former Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, envisions a post-Taliban coalition representing all parts of the political spectrum.
The Northern Alliance "would be an important part of that new government, but at about 15 percent of the population, I don't even think they think they are in a position at this time to be the dominant figure," Mr. Powell said on Fox News.
As the secretary spoke, U.S. warplanes bombarded Taliban positions about 25 miles north of Kabul in what appeared to be the heaviest and closest attack to the front line since the military campaign started two weeks ago.
Over the weekend, the campaign was taken to a new level as more than 100 U.S. Special Forces were sent in on the ground near Kandahar on a mission that included a search for a command complex used by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The United States blames the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, the prime suspect in last month's attacks on New York and Washington.
The military operation is likely to continue during Ramadan, Mr. Powell said, but added the Pentagon will make the final decision.
"We have to be respectful of that very, very significant religious period," he said. "But, at the same time, we also have to make sure that we pursue our campaign. So I will yield to my Pentagon colleagues as to what may be required if we are still in this kind of a military campaign mode when Ramadan approaches."
He said halting the campaign will depend on "what more has to be done, what the military operation looks like at that point."
"I don't want to speculate on what we might be ready to do at the middle of November and it's best that I remember that I'm secretary of state and no longer wearing a uniform," he said.
Mr. Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf war under President George Bush.
The APEC summit, which both Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell attended, called for international cooperation in the U.S.-led war against terrorism, but stopped short of endorsing the military campaign in Afghanistan.
Mr. Powell said on the CBS' "Face the Nation" that the United States never asked for such an endorsement.
Although the anti-terrorism coalition has made a big difference in Washington's "new war," it by no means ties America's hands in the pursuit of its military objectives, he said on Fox News.
"No aspect of the coalition keeps the American president from doing what he feels he has to do to go after al Qaeda and to deal with the Taliban," Mr. Powell said. "To suggest that somehow [the coalition] is in competition with what the president wants to do is simply a misreading of reality."

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