U.S. says Taliban leaders isolated from troops
By Deborah Zabarenko
Thursday November 29, 12:33 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders are increasingly cut off from their troops, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, a day after U.S. precision-guided bombs blasted a leadership compound near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Taliban leaders are trying by radio and other means to direct their forces, but in some cases "are severed from communicating by any means whatsoever," Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem told reporters.
He said the thrust of a two-month-old U.S. military campaign in the country is now to sever the Taliban and al Qaeda chain of command, targeting Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, which Washington blames for the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
"If we break the leadership of the Taliban and break the leadership of al Qaeda, there is reduced motivation for troops to stay loyal to the cause and continue to fight," Stufflebeem said.
More than 800 U.S. Marines were based at an airstrip outside the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, the first American ground forces in Afghanistan in this conflict.
From the north, several dozen members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, based in Uzbekistan, were also in the country, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. CNN reported they would guard an airfield at the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, but Whitman declined to elaborate.
At least 1,000 members of the mountain division, specially trained for combat in mountainous and snowy environments, have been in Uzbekistan for weeks. The Defense Department has said the aim is building a land bridge to Afghanistan to ease the path of relief and other supplies.
U.S. leaflets and radio broadcasts over Afghanistan urging members of the Taliban to defect have produced some results, Stufflebeem said. That was counter to calls on Wednesday by supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar to fight to the death.
"The effect of separating, isolating and reducing the leadership is then that the troops under their control are not going to know necessarily what it is they should be doing," Stufflebeem said.
"DISMANTLE THE LEADERSHIP"
"Any time you can dismantle the leadership or this chain of command, you then have groups of troops who are uncoordinated and uncontrolled and therefore much less effective," he said.
CBS Evening News reported late on Wednesday significant numbers of senior officials of Afghanistan's Taliban, including the head of military intelligence and at least two government ministers, have defected to the Northern Alliance and are in Pakistan.
One of the ministers, who were not identified, said he was "fed up" with the "stupid and dangerous ways" of the Taliban's spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, according to the CBS report. Whitman said he had no information on this.
Stufflebeem, a senior member of the military's Joint Staff, spoke a day after a swing-wing U.S. B-1 bomber dropped more than 10 bombs on a compound south of Kandahar that the Pentagon said was being used by senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.
He showed film from a circling fighter jet as bombs raked the compound. But Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters there was no proof any top leaders, including bin Laden or Omar, were there.
"After the strike, they (intelligence sources such as spy planes) have seen the Taliban digging furiously in the debris," one senior defence official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters two weeks ago there was credible evidence U.S. bombs had killed top al Qaeda official Mohammed Atef, the suspected military mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Atef, an Egyptian and one of bin Laden's top two lieutenants, was believed killed by U.S. warplanes south of the Afghan capital of Kabul on Nov. 14 or 15, according to Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials.
Also on Wednesday, the CIA confirmed one of its officers -- 32-year-old Johnny "Mike" Spann -- was killed during a prison revolt near the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif, the first known American combat death in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon reported late on Wednesday two Afghan civilians -- a woman and a child -- were killed when a U.S. aid shipment of wheat, blankets and cold weather equipment fell on a house.
The humanitarian aid bundle was dropped by a U.S. military aircraft using a container delivery system, in which goods fall under parachutes, the department said in a statement.
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