- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

The United States sent A-10 "Warthog" ground attack planes into Afghanistan over the weekend, as officials warned that operations in that country would last a long time.
Maj. Bryan Hilferty, a Defense Department spokesman, said "fewer than 10" of the warplanes, which can carry six 500-pound bombs, will operate out of Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. Others said the planes were moved to Afghanistan in apparent preparation for further attacks on defiant al Qaeda and Taliban forces.
The Warthog, nicknamed for its squat appearance, was one of the planes used during Operation Anaconda, the most recent U.S.-led offensive in the Afghan war. But until now, the A-10s were based in an undisclosed location outside Afghanistan.
"We can respond quicker if we are here and be where we need to be faster. It means a shorter time to get to a target," Capt. Jeff Baldwin, a 74th Fighter Squadron officer, told Reuters.
The arrival of the A-10s preceded the scheduled deployment of 1,700 Brtitish commandos, who are due to be on the ground in Afghanistan by mid-April in the next phase of operations against terrorists.
"We should expect to be doing this for a long, long time in the future," Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, said of the global war on terrorism on NBC's "Meet the Press."
He added: "We should expect that operations in Afghanistan are not going to be over anytime soon. We should expect that those operations are going to continue to involve serious risks to our young people who are serving on the ground over there."
Gen. Franks said military efforts in Afghanistan will not be completed until the "al Qaeda network inside Afghanistan is destroyed." Elements now complicating those efforts, he said, include the return of warlords to their power bases and "external influences," meaning countries he did not identify that have interests in Afghanistan.
"I think that it's going to be very difficult for us to view in the very near term Afghanistan as a 'perfect spot.' I think that, historically, we have seen fractious, contentious behavior in that country, and I suspect it's going to continue," the general said.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who appeared on three news talk shows yesterday, concurred with Gen. Franks' forecast of a lengthy U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
"We clearly will continue to have U.S. forces in Afghanistan for some considerable period of time to come. We're there to back up the ISAF [international peacekeeping force]. We're there to work with the Karzai interim authority and, hopefully, a new government, once it is stood up. We are prepared to train the new Afghan national army, which they badly need," Mr. Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Asked if the United States would have to "rebuild" Afghanistan, the vice president said: "Rebuild it, put it back together again, whatever phrase you want. We cannot allow Afghanistan to move to a situation where once again it's a sanctuary for terrorists."
Mr. Cheney noted that there is a widespread perception that the "outside world walked away" from Afghanistan after the Soviet Union withdrew in the late 1980s, allowing the Taliban militia to take power. "We can't do that again," he said.
In the NBC interview, Gen. Franks was asked about a report Saturday in the New York Times that American troops found a laboratory in Afghanistan being built by al Qaeda terrorists to produce anthrax and other deadly agents.
Gen. Franks confirmed discovery of the facility near Kandahar, saying there was "evidence of the attempt by [Osama] bin Laden to get his hands on weapons of mass destruction, anthrax or a variety of others."
Gen. Franks said the site was one of 50 or 60 similar sites inside Afghanistan where U.S. forces found evidence such weapons were under development. The good news, he said, is "that we have not found an indication that anything ever got mixed in the right way to create a weapon of mass destruction. … We have not seen a successful product of their labors up to this point."
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Mr. Cheney said Arab leaders he visited on his recent trip to the Middle East did not oppose potential American action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, even though some have spoken out publicly against such action.
Privately, the vice president said, Arab leaders "share our concern" about Saddam's efforts to expand his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
"I would say that almost without exception there is universal concern on the developments we see in Iraq," Mr. Cheney said.


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