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Rumsfeld: US strikes now targeting Taliban front lines
By Boston.com Wire Services, 10/17/01
WASHINGTON - U.S. warplanes have begun pounding Taliban troops protecting the Afghan capital of Kabul and the key crossroads of Mazar-i-Sharif in direct support of opposition forces trying to capture the cities, the Pentagon said Monday.
"The reason for the air attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida forces is to destroy Taliban and al-Qaida forces," Rumsfeld said, denying suggestions that the Bush administration had held back on bombing those front-line Taliban positions out of concern that the opposition northern alliance would capture Kabul.
It was the first clear indication from Washington that U.S. aircraft, conducting a 16th day of raids in Afghanistan, were moving to open the way for Northern Alliance opposition forces in their drive to remove the country's Taliban rulers.
"We're not holding back at all," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters "Our efforts from the air clearly are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground."
He spoke at a Pentagon press conference as dozens of attack jets launched a second consecutive day of strikes on Taliban troops north of Kabul and around Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.
The Northern Alliance has been stalled in attempts to take both Kabul and Mazir-i-Sharif, a key crossroads on the supply route to Kabul.
"We have been ready and we certainly are ready to have the alliance forces move, both north and south," the secretary said at a Pentagon briefing.
"We are happy and eager and willing to do what we can to help seek out and destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda forces," Rumsfeld added, referring to the guerrilla network of Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden, accused by Washington of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
EMPHASIS ON TROOPS
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that, in the past two days, "our operations involved a greater emphasis on fielded Taliban forces, rather than fixed structures."
Rumsfeld also told reporters that there was no evidence to support Taliban claims that U.S. warplanes had bombed a hospital in the western city of Herat Monday and killed more than 100 people.
"We have absolutely no evidence at all that would suggest that that allegation ... is correct. I'm sure it's not," the secretary said.
While Rumsfeld has admitted that some U.S. bombs have apparently gone awry during the campaign and killed civilians, he has rejected Taliban claims that hundreds of civilians have died in the bombings.
On Monday, he flatly denied claims by the Taliban, which Washington accuses of harboring bin Laden, that their forces had shot down U.S. helicopters and captured U.S. troops during two lighting raids into Afghanistan by American Army Rangers and other Special Operations troops overnight Friday.
Rumsfeld had been previously reluctant to discuss directly U.S. air support of the Northern Alliance, noting that the alliance was a loose coalition of opposition forces. He said Monday that the United States was still working with both the alliance and tribes in southern Afghanistan to solidify opposition to the Taliban.
WORKING TO FORGE OPPOSITION ALLIANCE
"It's true," he said when pressed about support for the opposition. "The United States has been engaged in various air activities that have addressed Taliban and Al Qaeda forces, for the most part in the north -- some north of Kabul and some en route to, yes, Mazar-i-Sharif.
"To the extent that the other (political) pieces have not fallen into place, we will keep working on that."
The United States has been under pressure to achieve a breakthrough in the military campaign before Afghanistan's fierce winter and ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-November.
But at the press conference, Rumsfeld gave no assurances that U.S. bombing of Afghanistan would stop during Ramadan, despite a statement by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf earlier that "One would hope and wish that this campaign comes to an end before the month of Ramadan."
"We have great respect for the views and concerns of the many countries that are cooperating in this effort," Rumsfeld said.
"There continue to be terrorist threats in this world and the sooner we deal with this problem the less likely it is that you are going to have additional terrorist attacks," he added.
"History is replete with instances where Muslim nations have fought among themselves or with other countries during various important holy days for their religion and it has not inhibited them historically."
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On the Net:
Pentagon statement: www.defenselink