Rumsfeld: US to Soon Put More Troops in Afghanistan
Thursday, November 01, 2001 4:06 PM EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will soon put more elite troops on the ground in Afghanistan, sharply increasing bomb targeting and other support for anti-Taliban forces, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Thursday.
But bad weather and Taliban ground fire had beaten back recent attempts to insert more forces, said Rumsfeld, adding the military would press ahead with the plan.
``We have a number of teams cocked and ready to go,'' he said. They would join fewer than 100 U.S. special forces in northern Afghanistan.
``We are going to be adding people to have a reasonable cluster of American special forces who are able to be in there, serve as liaison, assist with the communication, assist with the targeting,'' Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news briefing.
``I would like to see, as soon as humanly possible, the numbers of teams go up by three or four times.''
Rumsfeld told reporters there had been no U.S. casualties from ground fire against what other U.S. officials told Reuters were attempts to insert troops using helicopters.
``Ground fire was simply too heavy to unload the folks and so they went back and they'll try it again in a different landing area,'' the secretary said. Weather was also a problem.
Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied press reports that Washington had shifted its strategy of waiting for closer cooperation among anti-Taliban factions and was now openly and strongly supporting the Northern Alliance.
'MEASURABLE PROGRESS' CITED
The heavy bombing strikes in support of alliance troops trying to capture the capital of Kabul and northern crossroads city of Mazar-i-Sharif were simply part of a progressive campaign planned all along, they said.
``We have made measurable progress,'' said Rumsfeld, noting the U.S.-British air campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda guerrillas, in response to the devastating Sept. 11 attacks on America, had only been going on for less than a month.
The United States and Britain began an air campaign on Oct. 7 aimed at the al Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban forces which rule most of Afghanistan and have been sheltering bin Laden.
``There is no doubt in my mind but that the American people know that it's going to take more than 24 days to deal with this very difficult problem,'' he said of a war on terrorism sparked by attacks using hijacked airliners to smash into the Pentagon and New York City's World Trade Center, killing more than 4,800 people.
``Today is November 1, and smoke at this very moment is still rising from the ruins of the World Trade Center,'' he said.
Washington conceded for the first time on Tuesday it had dozens of troops in northern Afghanistan helping provide food and ammunition to Northern Alliance forces and pinpointing targets for U.S. warplanes bombing Taliban troops defending Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif.
In addition to bringing more troops, Rumsfeld said food and ammunition were being sent to anti-Taliban forces.
``We're not only trying to increase the numbers that are doing that (opposing the ruling Taliban), we're trying to improve their success, and to the extent we can provide, get people in with them and provide the targeting to help us,'' he said.
The United States has faced strong criticism from the Muslim world for the increasingly heavy bombing and for civilian deaths caused by bombs gone awry.
Human rights groups have also attacked the U.S. use of cluster bombs, which can rain up to 200 explosive bomblets on a target.
``They are being used on front-line al Qaeda and Taliban troops to try to kill them ... to be perfectly blunt,'' Rumsfeld said.
Myers added that the bombs were being dropped after careful study to make sure that attacks were within the international laws of armed conflict.
The general also told reporters the military was considering the addition of two new spy planes, including the Pentagon's experimental unmanned ``Global Hawk'' aircraft, to weaponry in the skies over Afghanistan.
The Global Hawk, with a wingspan of 116 feet, can remain airborne for 24 hours at altitudes of 60,000 feet while providing real-time video pictures of movements on the ground.
The Air Force, Myers added, might also deploy its four-engine ``JSTARS'' surveillance and attack targeting aircraft to the region. The crew aboard the military version of a Boeing 707 aircraft can watch over the ground from long range and provide information on enemy movements for both air and ground strikes.
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