US-British strikes only the start of a campaign agsinst Taliban, terrorists
Monday October 8, 5:49 AM
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 (AFP) - The US and British air strikes launched Sunday are only the opening shot of a sustained military campaign aimed at ousting Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and destroying terror networks operating in the country, US defense officials said.
Acting first to seize command of the skies, US and British forces hit airfields, air defense sites and command centers as well as bases used by prime terror suspect Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, officials said.
"We need the freedom to operate on the ground and in the air," said US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "And the target selected, if successfully destroyed, should permit an increasing degree of freedom over time."
Rumsfeld made clear that the broader goal was to topple the Taliban and destroy the terrorist networks under their protection, but stressed these glaos would not be achieved instantly.
"The fact is, in this battle against terrorism there is no silver bullet," he said.
"Ultimately, they're going to collapse from within, and they're going to collapse from within because of the full combination of all of the resources from all of the countries that are brought to bear on these networks. And that is what will constitute victory," he said.
The campaign launched Sunday will be conducted in phases over a period of time with air strikes clearing the way for ground operations by Afghan opposition forces as well as US special forces.
Even as explosions were lighting the skies over Kabul in televised scenes reminiscent of the opening days of the 1991 Gulf War, a parallel operation was set into motion to win the "hearts and minds" of Afghans.
Two US Air Force C-17 transport planes dropped pallets of food from high altitudes to refugees inside Afghanistan, military officials said.
A special forces "commando solo" aircraft designed for pyschological operations dropped leaflets and made broadcasts explaining the operations to Afghans, Rumsfeld said.
Still unknown is whether US commandos were on the ground Sunday, but it was clear that they will have a key role in the campaign, both with raids targeting terrorist operations and in helping the opposition forces fighting the Taliban.
Rumsfeld said the United States would act to tip the military balance in favor of the Northern Alliance and others opposed to the Taliban forces.
The defense secretary declined to elaborate, but such help could mean arms, air cover, advisers and intelligence for the opposition forces, who in turn can provide US forces targeting intelligence on the terrorist groups and Taliban.
Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born exile alleged to have masterminded the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, was not targeted in the raids, Rumsfeld said.
Instead, the Pentagon is directing military action at their sources of support within the country, notably the Taliban itself.
"It's going to be shake and bake until we smoke them out," said one defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Officials said to expect air strikes lasting at least several days, before US and British forces move on to other phases of the campaign.
"This is going to go on. This is going to be sustained," said another defense official.
"It is not yet over," said Rumsfeld, briefing reporters at the Pentagon while the strikes were underway.
B-2 stealth bombers flying from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri took part in the air strikes, but a Pentagon official said they remained in the region -- a sign of the continuous nature of the attacks.
They were among 15 land-based bombers and 25 carrier-based strike aircraft involved in the operation.
Air Force B-52 bombers operating out of the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and B-1 bombers in the region, possibly Oman, also struck mainly using precision weapons but also some conventional ordnance, military officials said.
The bombers carry satellite-guided glide bombs, although the B-52 bomber also can fire air-launched cruise missiles.
Fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from four US warships and two British submarines, officials said.
Rumsfeld said it was too early to tell whether the strikes were successful.
He said no aircraft were reported shot down or damaged in the raids.
Afghanistan is reported to have a small number of Soviet-made SA-2 surface-to-air missile launchers, shoulder fired SA-7 and SA-14 surface-to-air missiles, and man-portable Stinger missiles that were supplied by the CIA to Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet occupations forces in the 1980s.
Anti-aircraft artillery also pose a threat to US and British aircraft.
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