Afghan bombing cripples training camps, U.S. says

Strikes near Kabul soften Taliban for Northern Alliance

War On Terrorism

October 22, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- U.S. air attacks over the past two weeks have hammered many of Osama bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan, crippling his ability to train new fighters, the Pentagon's top officer said yesterday.

"We've hit a lot of their training camps, so they won't be doing any training in the near future in Afghanistan," said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Myers, appearing on ABC's This Week, said U.S. forces are prepared to kill bin Laden if they encounter him under conditions that demand lethal action.

"It depends on the circumstances," he said. "If it's a defensive situation, ... bullets will fly. But if we can capture somebody, we'll do that."

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, asked a similar question on CNN, said: "Our mission is to bring him to justice or bring justice to him."

A U.S. official confirmed a Washington Post report that President Bush signed an order last month directing the CIA to use any means necessary to destroy bin Laden, along with his communications facilities, security apparatus and infrastructure in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Bush has added more than $1 billion to the spy agency's war on terrorism, most of it for new covert action, the official said.

Myers said the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, which entered its ground phase over the weekend with a night assault by special operations forces on two sites in southern Afghanistan, could last into the middle of next year or longer.

"We're going to have to have patience if we're going to be successful in this campaign," he said. "We're doing it in a very measured way. It may take till next spring. It may take till next summer. It may take longer than that in Afghanistan."

Powell, appearing on CNN's Late Edition, said: "We shouldn't be expecting this to be over immediately," adding that military operations might slow down or be constrained next month when winter weather arrives in Afghanistan.

Earlier, on Fox News Sunday, Powell, a retired Army general who held Myers' post during the Persian Gulf war, said: "I think it would be in our interest and the interest of the coalition to see this matter resolved before winter strikes and it makes our operations that much more difficult."

More than 100 Army Rangers and other special forces attacked an airfield and a Taliban command center Friday and Saturday, killing Taliban forces, destroying weapons and seizing intelligence data.

The center, outside Kandahar, included one of the residences of the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, though he was not there, Myers said.

"We have not been able to pinpoint exactly where all these command and control centers are," said Myers. "We continue to look."

Myers sidestepped a Newsweek report that said U.S. intelligence agencies have narrowed the whereabouts of bin Laden to a 20-square-mile area of Afghanistan.

"I would be delighted if we could find it in a 20- by-20-mile square," he said. "We do continue to use all means that we have at our disposal, plus the means of other governmental agencies, to try and locate the command and control and the leadership."

U.S. air attacks yesterday struck Taliban targets just north of the capital, Kabul, according to the Associated Press.

The attacks were the closest and most intense strikes so far against Taliban positions defending Kabul from Northern Alliance forces. Alliance officials had been asking the United States to bomb the front line north of Kabul so that their forces could advance on the capital.

Until now, U.S. bombing of front-line positions has mostly taken place around the strategic northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, where the alliance is seeking to wrest control from Taliban forces. Aerial bombardment continued there yesterday, and also in the western city of Herat and the southern city of Kandahar.

Myers would not comment on a report that Pentagon officials have begun to search for targets in Iraq as a possible next step in the war on terrorism. But the four-star Air Force general indicated that the attacks in Afghanistan are only the beginning of military action.

"This is a global war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction," he said. "So, Afghanistan is only one small piece. So, of course we're thinking very broadly. I would say, since World War II we haven't thought this broadly about a campaign."

The Senate's top leaders, appearing on This Week, declined to say whether Iraq should be targeted next but agreed that Afghanistan is only the beginning of the military campaign against terrorism.

"I don't think we ought to reveal what we're going to do," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat. "We've got to take this thing one step at a time, and we're doing exactly the right thing as far as I'm concerned."

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