- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

U.S. warplanes are stepping up attacks against frontline Taliban forces near troops of the opposition Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, defense officials said yesterday.
Bombing raids near Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul are part of a strategy to oust the ruling Taliban regime, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters, as warplanes struck Afghanistan for a 16th day.
Mr. Rumsfeld said bombing in support of Northern Alliance forces will help "destroy Taliban and al Qaeda forces."
"It happens that they are arrayed against, for the most part, Northern Alliance forces north of Kabul and in the northwest portion of the country. And our efforts from the air, clearly, are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground," he said.
The defense secretary appeared to give a green light to opposition forces to advance on the Taliban, which has about 40,000 troops.
Asked if U.S. forces had been holding back Northern Alliance troop advances, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "We have been ready, and we certainly are ready to have the alliance forces move both north and south.
"The pieces are being worked on, but I think it would be premature to say they're falling into place," Mr. Rumsfeld said of the overall efforts to defeat al Qaeda terrorists and the ruling Taliban militia.
"There are a lot of people who are working on them," he said. "The reality is that we believe very strongly that the threat to the world has not disappeared and that the sooner the al Qaeda and Taliban forces are dealt with, the sooner the threat will begin to moderate. And, therefore, we're not holding back at all."
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Northern Alliance is a loose group of separate elements with "somewhat consistent interests."
"The United States and the coalition forces have, for a period of days, been seeking out concentrations of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "We have had uneven success. To the extent we have excellent ground-to-air coordination, the success improves. To the extent that some of the forces move forward against Taliban and al Qaeda forces, our success improves because it flushes them."
Mr. Rumsfeld denied reports from Afghanistan that two U.S. helicopters were shot down by Taliban forces, and he said there is no evidence to support Taliban claims that U.S. forces bombed a hospital, killing about 100 people.
The defense secretary declined to say whether the United States would scale back military operations during the monthlong Muslim religious holiday of Ramadan, which begins in mid-November.
"We have great respect for the views and concerns of the many countries that are cooperating in this effort," he said. "And as I've said on a number of occasions, the sensitivities and the perspectives vary from country to country."
Still, terrorist threats are continuing and "the sooner we deal with this problem, the less likely it is that you're going to have additional terrorist attacks," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary said "history is replete with instances where Muslim nations have fought among themselves or with other countries during various important holy days for their religion and it has not inhibited them historically."
Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to play down statements made Sunday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who said it would be in the U.S. interest to finish off the Taliban before winter makes military operations more difficult.
"Clearly, there's been a lot of talk of the weather," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It makes things somewhat more difficult in the northern part of the country. But there's no timetables on this. The task is clear: We're going to root out al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership and the Taliban government, and that's just a part of the effort that will be conducted worldwide."
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. bombing strikes are helping the Northern Alliance.
"We think they're outnumbered, for one reason, so that impacts how fast they can move," Gen. Myers said, speaking of the 15,000 troops of the Northern Alliance. "And I would say that's probably the biggest factor. I think that that's starting to come to a head, and we may see some progress in that area here in the not-too-distant future."
Gen. Myers said U.S. strikes also have damaged helicopters and transport aircraft, making it difficult for Taliban forces to reinforce troops and evacuate the wounded.
The attacks on the Taliban are "having some effect," but the exact effect is not known yet. "We're going to have to wait," he said.
The four-star general said the action in Afghanistan includes both visible military operations and "other things going on besides what you see here on these videotapes."
Gen. Myers showed videotape images of U.S. guided-bomb strikes on Taliban tanks from the past weekend.
Gen. Myers said U.S. forces bombed six targets on Saturday, including airfields and air defenses, along with facilities used for "command and control" and terrorist forces and camps.
About 90 aircraft took part in the bombing raids, including five long-range bombers, he said.
Eight targets were bombed on Sunday, including the Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan. A total of 85 jets took part in those raids, including 10 long-range bombers, Gen. Myers said.
Mr. Rumsfeld criticized U.S. government officials for what he said was illegally disclosing information about the first U.S. commando ground operation near Kandahar on Friday.
"I couldn't care less where the source of the leak is," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "The responsibility is the same. It puts people's lives at risk, and it's just terrible. It is terrible, and I just can't imagine people being that irresponsible that they're willing to do that."
Mr. Rumsfeld also expressed irritation at reporters for asking more than one question at a time during press conferences, and said he would not answer questions in the future about details of covert military action.
"Our goal is not to demystify things for the other side," he said. "This is a very complicated set of problems. The goal is to confuse. It is to make more difficult. It is to add cost. It is to frighten. And it is to defeat the Taliban and the al Qaeda."
Gen. Myers said Sunday that U.S. and allied forces have "taken down" Taliban air defenses "so we pretty much have free reign of the country."
"That is not to say they still don't have manned portable surface-to-air missiles," Gen. Myers said. "But we basically can range freely over Afghanistan. We've hit a lot of their military facilities, their tanks, their artillery, their vehicle support facilities and some troop concentrations. And al Qaeda, we've hit a lot of their training camps, so they won't be doing any training in the near future in Afghanistan. So we're trying to posture ourselves to continue to squeeze out al Qaeda and to diminish the Taliban's influence."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide