- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Al Qaeda terrorists are hiding in caves and their Taliban military backers are moving to civilian areas in Afghanistan to avoid U.S. aerial bombardment, the Pentagon said yesterday.
"Caves are clearly in the target sets because that's where al Qaeda has traditionally hidden," said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The terrorists have moved into some of the "hundreds, if not thousands" of underground caves around the country and the U.S. military is using special earth-penetrating bombs to get at them, said Adm. Stufflebeem.
Regarding the Taliban seeking refuge within towns and cities, Adm. Stufflebeem said there is anecdotal evidence the tactic is being used.
"We're not finding evidence that they are trying to amass firepower," he said. "I think that they are learning from this campaign that we have a tremendous lethality in going after their military articles. And therefore, I think we are seeing that they are trying to disperse them to save them."
Taliban forces are moving into neighborhoods and mosques and other areas "where they can try to hide or get in close proximity of to try to salvage some of their capability."
While not targeting cities, "we will find other ways using the full spectrum capability of our military, to get at those who might cowardly decide to hide in residential neighborhoods," said Adm. Stufflebeem.
He spoke to reporters at the Pentagon as U.S. warplanes carried out new bombing strikes in Afghanistan from bases and aircraft carriers in the region.
Adm. Stufflebeem said that during raids yesterday some 80 strike aircraft, including fighter-bombers, long-range bombers and AC-130 gunships, hit 11 targets.
Adm. Stufflebeem said al Qaeda terrorists are fighting alongside Taliban troops due to an arrangement between Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden, who is the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban "are mutually supportive," he said.
"I'd be surprised if one can survive without the other. We're interested in destroying al Qaeda. We're interested in making the Taliban give up their support of al Qaeda. And we're interested in getting at weapons of mass destruction that can be made available to terrorists worldwide."
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said a U.S. helicopter in Pakistan came under attack with small-arms fire after picking up the wreckage of a downed Black Hawk helicopter that crashed during a U.S. commando raid into Afghanistan on Saturday.
The incident Saturday took place at an unidentified airfield in Pakistan that was being used to refuel the helicopter that had been transporting the downed helicopters.
"While there, they took hostile fire, aborted the refueling, returned fire and departed," said Mrs. Clarke. "There were no casualties among the U.S. crew and no reports of casualties on the ground."
Also last weekend, a U.S. Navy F-14 mistaken bombed a residential area northwest of Kabul with two 500-pound bombs. "The intended targets were military vehicles parked in an area approximately one-half mile away," said Mrs. Clarke.
In another raid on Sunday, a Navy F-18 "missed its intended target" and hit an open field close to a senior citizens home near the western town of Herat with a 1,000-pound bomb, she said. The intended target was a vehicle maintenance facility nearby and the bomb's guidance system is believed to have malfunctioned, she said.
Also, the aircraft wheels displayed by Taliban officials on Arab television were from a U.S. MH-47 helicopter that lost its landing gear after hitting a barrier during Saturday's commando operation in Afghanistan, said Mrs. Clarke. The helicopter was able to return safely to its base with no other damage or injuries to its crew, she said.
The Pentagon said that so far during the 17 days of attacks that about 3,000 missiles and bombs were used.
Asked for a tally of the targets hit during the campaign, Adm. Stufflebeem said "we have struck all of the terrorist training camps" known to be used by al Qaeda.
"I can't tell you that I know what a number is, and I think that you can appreciate that if al Qaeda has an ability to train, they will try to make or find a camp that they can use," he said.
If additional camps are discovered, "we'll strike them," he said. He declined to identify the number of camps that were hit.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the attacks destroyed nine terrorist camps and severely destroyed nine airfields and 24 military garrisons.
"Their forces have been attacked, weakening [the Talibans] ability to withstand the Northern Alliance," Mr. Hoon told reporters in London.
News agency reports from Kabul stated that U.S. warplanes pounded Taliban frontline positions near Kabul for a third straight day yesterday.
The attacks are aimed at weakening the Taliban so that the opposition Northern Alliance forces can advance on the Afghan capital.
As for the Taliban, the Taliban's air defenses and nationwide command-and-control system "are gone," Adm. Stufflebeem said.
"They have got to be feeling, from my opinion, quite a bit of stress at not being able to do what they thought they would be able to do," he said.
Food also seems to be in short supply for the Taliban as seen by the seizure of Red Cross food supplies meant for the Afghan people, he said.
"They're denying that to the people who need it. I make an assumption that they're keeping that for themselves because they don't have an ability to resupply easily," said Adm. Stufflebeem.
Also, the United States has bombed petroleum facilities used to fuel armored vehicles and the fact that tanks are still moving "tells me this is going to be a very long and slow process," he said.

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