- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

U.S. rapid-reaction forces are on standby to aid Pakistanis in raids on al Qaeda hide-outs, but the Americans were not activated early yesterday in a bloody firefight near the Afghan border.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman, yesterday disclosed the military arrangement that could put U.S. soldiers in direct combat outside Afghanistan in the rugged tribal areas of western Pakistan.
It is in these mountainous and generally lawless regions that hundreds of al Qaeda fighters fled from Afghanistan, making it one of the most active battlegrounds in the global war on terrorism. If he is alive, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed in be somewhere in the provinces, aided by sympathetic Pakistani tribesmen.
"We did put some forces on alert to respond to the firefight in Pakistan had the Pakistanis asked for help," Gen. Myers said. "It could have been both types of forces, air and ground. And what they could have done would have been up to what the Pakistanis requested help in."
In the raids on houses in the village of Wana, 10 Pakistani soldiers and two Chechen al Qaeda members were killed, Pakistani officials said. Other al Qaeda forces were being pursued. The cluster of terrorists was discovered by U.S. intelligence, which passed the information on to military leaders in Islamabad.
"The Pakistanis have been cooperating with us, and we've been sharing intelligence, and they've been undertaking raids," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.
U.S. special-operations teams have crossed the border into Pakistan on occasion to search for al Qaeda forces. The Pentagon will not say if any have directly participated in raids alongside the Pakistanis. It has reported no U.S. combat casualties in Pakistan.
A Pakistani military statement said, "In an effort to apprehend the al Qaeda elements using minimum force due to concern for safety of the civilian population, 10 security persons" were killed. "A number of al Qaeda foreign terrorists were also killed."
The Associated Press reported from Islamabad that Pakistan deployed 500 soldiers to the area to search for those responsible for recent attacks on Western targets.
Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who commands all 7,000 American troops in Afghanistan, has said there may be as many as 1,000 al Qaeda fighters operating in small groups in eastern Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.
In "Operation Mountain Lion," coalition forces have scoured eastern Afghanistan looking for the few al Qaeda fighters who might remain. They have found no enemy recently, but have discovered huge caches of munitions and small arms, including Chinese-made SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles.
In the Philippines, another front in the war on terrorism, U.S. military advisers are due to end a deployment on July 31. But a new, smaller military mission will begin immediately and will likely involve American Special Forces soldiers going on patrols alongside Filipinos. Now, the Americans are restricted to headquarters, as they advise the locals on how to track and kill members of Abu Sayyaf, an al Qaeda-linked Muslim extremist group.
"There will be a full stop," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "And then a new period will begin when in fact they might very well begin training with lower-level units, and very likely entering the new phase."
The Pentagon considers as successful the Philippine front. U.S.-directed Filipinos killed Abu Sayyaf leaders last week.


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