U.S. in `hot pursuit' of terrorists

Bush won't comment on reports U.S. has forces in Afghanistan

Talks with Taliban rejected

$25 million released to assist refugees

Pakistan offered aid

September 29, 2001|By David L. Greene and Tom Bowman | David L. Greene and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - U.S. commando units have already begun operations inside Afghanistan as the U.S. military prepares to retaliate for the terrorist attacks on the United States, according to news reports yesterday.

President Bush declared at the White House that "we're in hot pursuit" of terrorists being harbored in Afghanistan, and he warned again that there would be "no negotiations" with that nation's ruling Taliban regime.

An administration official said Bush was not confirming reports that elite U.S. special forces had already been deployed in Afghanistan, in advance of military action. In his remarks yesterday, the president said he would not discuss military operations.

"Any public discussion of military or intelligence matters could jeopardize any mission that we may be thinking about," Bush said.

Some of the news reports about a U.S. deployment of special forces in Afghanistan conflicted with others.

At least one account suggested that the commandos had been trying to hunt down Osama bin Laden, focusing on caves and underground bunkers in southwest Afghanistan where they believe the suspected terrorist leader might be hiding.

Other reports indicated that the special forces had conducted only scouting missions - to survey the rugged terrain in Afghanistan in preparation for U.S. military strikes - and were not yet targeting bin Laden and his network.

Officials at the White House and Pentagon declined to confirm or deny the various reports.

The special forces, made up of Army Green Berets and Delta Force, Navy SEALs and Air Force special operations pilots and combat control teams, are expected to form a key part of any land operations, defense officials say.

The Green Berets, for example, would probably slip into Afghanistan by road with the rebels of the Northern Alliance or fly in at night aboard helicopters. The commandos would help train the rebel forces or collect intelligence on bin Laden's whereabouts. They might also search for possible Taliban militia targets.

Using eavesdropping equipment, reconnaissance commandos could pick up radio or voice communications, current and former special operations officers say. Or they could simply burrow in, as they did in Iraq, days before the start of the Persian Gulf war, watching for enemy troop movements.

Some commandos are expert at calling in airstrikes, either using radios or pointing to a target with a hand-held laser guidance system.

In 1982, British commandos from the Special Air Service arrived in the Falkland Islands on reconnaissance missions weeks before Britain went to war with Argentina. The Special Air Service played a similar role in Kosovo before military action began two years ago.

"Until we've got good intelligence, nothing is going to happen," said one Green Beret officer who asked not to be identified.

Retired Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak, who served as Air Force chief of staff during the gulf war, said that any military action against Afghanistan would probably involve small airstrikes called in by special forces rather than the heavy bombing used in the gulf war and in Kosovo. There are simply not enough targets in Afghanistan, he said.

"My assumption is it would be a smaller rather than a larger [bombing] response," McPeak said. "It might heavily depend on special forces."

Yesterday, Bush made it plain that the Taliban had little chance left to avoid military action by the United States. The president repeated demands he made in a speech to the nation last week, including that the Taliban must hand over bin Laden immediately, which the regime has refused to do.

"I laid out the conditions that we expect the current government of Afghanistan to follow," Bush said before a meeting at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

"It's not just Mr. bin Laden that we expect to see and brought to justice," Bush added. "It's everybody associated with his organization that's in Afghanistan.

"And not only those directly associated with Mr. bin Laden. Any terrorist that is housed and fed in Afghanistan needs to be handed over. And finally, we expect there to be complete destruction of terrorist camps."

Later, when asked whether there was no longer room for diplomacy, Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman, said, "That's correct."

Bush also announced yesterday that he was releasing $25 million in humanitarian aid from a federal emergency fund to help the refugees who are trying to flee Afghanistan.

Thousands of Afghans have been trying to escape their country, in anticipation of U.S. military strikes. And many more would try to pour across the border once any military action was launched.

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