- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said for the first time yesterday that a small number of U.S. troops are working on the ground with opposition Afghan forces and he insisted that the campaign is progressing well.
"We do have a very modest number of ground troops in the country, and they are there for liaison purposes and have been doing an excellent job of assisting with the coordination for resupplies of various type, as well as targeting," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
The U.S. soldiers are in northern Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld said, and are "assisting with targeting and providing the kind of very specific information which is helpful to the air effort.
"And because they are there now, the effort has improved in its effectiveness over what had been the case previously," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The disclosure comes amid some media criticism from pundits who say military operations, now in the fourth week, are bogging down and that more forces should be used in the campaign against more targets.
In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, said the war is going as planned and has not become stuck.
"I don't believe this operation is at a stalemate," Gen. Franks told reporters. "We are committed to this for as long as it takes."
Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed claims by critics who said the United States is not doing enough and said anyone who makes such suggestions lacks "knowledge as to the effort we've been putting into it."
He said that more than half of the targets in bombing raids in recent days have been targeted at helping the opposition Northern Alliance troops with attacks on frontline Taliban forces.
Asked about media criticism, Mr. Rumsfeld said he reads many op-ed articles and that "I would just be dumbfounded if I found that everyone agreed with everything that we did. We expect that there will be differences of views."
The defense secretary spoke to reporters following a meeting with British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon.
Both Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Hoon said it is unlikely that bombing raids will be halted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
At a breakfast earlier yesterday, Mr. Hoon said Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect behind the September 11 terrorist attacks, is still hiding in Afghanistan.
"We don't know where he is," said Mr. Hoon. "My judgment remains that he's still in Afghanistan. We know from the past that he has moved around Afghanistan, that he has a number of places that in past, at any rate, he has been able to hide out."
Mr. Hoon said British special-operations forces are poised to conduct raids in Afghanistan, like the Oct. 19 U.S. commando raid on Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's residence. The British defense chief also said it is possible that the Taliban may relent and give up bin Laden.
In Uzbekistan, Gen. Franks denied that U.S. civilian defense leaders are dissatisfied with the pace of the war.
"My boss, the secretary of defense, and the president have not indicated to me any frustration about the pace of this activity," the four-star general said in his first substantive remarks about military operations. "We will undertake our actions on a timeline that is satisfying to us. We will maintain the initiative."
Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, said the U.S. forces moved into Afghanistan within the past several days are also helping military planners.
"It's also important to be able to see a battlefield from on the battlefield," said Adm. Stufflebeem. "An Army expression is you have to walk the terrain to understand it, and that's of value in its own intelligence as well as the ability of our forces to have the confidence to get on the ground to conduct operations and to engage an enemy."
The ground troops will "help direct the strikes with more precision so that there's less chance" of errant bombing, said Adm. Stufflebeem.
The troops are in a combat zone and are at risk, he said, "but it's a risk that is part of the plan."
Mr. Rumsfeld said there are signs the Taliban, a radical Islamic movement, is becoming disunited and some of its leaders are defecting.
Also, Afghans are concerned that bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorists and the Taliban are using mosques as ammunition storage sites and command-and-control centers, and that they are moving air-defense batteries close to residential areas. The moves are designed to avoid U.S. bombing and missile attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"The Afghan people feel that they are being put at unnecessary risk because of the collocation, which clearly is for the very reason that they know we avoid targeting residential and civilian areas," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Adm. Stufflebeem said military operations Monday included bombing raids on terrorist and Taliban power centers, including bunkers and tunnels, an airfield and Taliban forces near opposition troops.
A total of 13 targets were hit by some 70 strike aircraft, most of which are based on aircraft carriers.
Adm. Stufflebeem said Northern Alliance troops are fighting to take the key strategic town of Mazar-e-Sharif in the north.
"We know there are multiple opposition groups that are aligned against multiple Taliban groups," he said.
"There are many forces involved, there are many different commanders involved, and there may be more than one objective that I'm not sure about in terms of are they all after the same thing," he said. "The one thing that's for sure is that it's heated."
Adm. Stufflebeem said the opposition forces in northern Afghanistan are "openly opposed to the Taliban" and have "asked for assistance."
Helping other opposition forces in the south is "more problematic," he said. Although "we are certain that there are those tribes in the south that are not loyal to the Taliban. We have not been invited, we have not been asked for, we have not been requested, as we have in the north."
Helping the southern Afghan opposition also is more difficult because it is harder to reach their forces, Adm. Stufflebeem said.
"It's quite a different geographic area," he said. "And there's quite a bit of difference in terms of organized opposition."
Adm. Stufflebeem also said the military is "eternally, eternally grateful to the American people for the steadfast support" of the military action in Afghanistan.
"And for those of us in uniform, that steels us in our resolve," he said. "We know we're doing the right thing, we're going it in the best way that we know how, we're adapting as we go along, we're confident that we're making progress, and we are going to win."

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