Pentagon to beef up presence in region

U.N. prepares plans for security force

November 14, 2001|By Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews | Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Pentagon officials said yesterday that additional U.S. troops, including Army and Marine units, will beef up the American presence in the region around Afghanistan during the next several weeks.

The officials also acknowledged for the first time that several dozen Special Operations forces are active in the southern part of the country, the stronghold of the Taliban regime and the terrorist al-Qaida network.

In addition, in the wake of fast-paced advances by the opposition Northern Alliance, the officials announced that they will focus on repairing airfields inside the country and opening up a land bridge to Uzbekistan to accelerate the movement of humanitarian aid.

At the United Nations, diplomats rushed to catch up with developments on the ground, preparing plans to send an international security force from Muslim countries as well as U.N. civilian workers into areas taken by the Northern Alliance.

Meeting at the White House, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin reaffirmed their support for the Northern Alliance, referring to the opposition forces as liberators, but said any future government must "represent all Afghans, men and women, and be drawn from all ethnic groups."

In a joint statement, the United States and Russia agreed that the Taliban "as a movement" should not be part of the new government, leaving open the possibility that individuals from the Taliban might be included.

Although the Northern Alliance had gone against a Bush demand that it not enter Kabul, Bush cited reports that the rebels' advance in the north of Afghanistan was a "joyous occasion" for people of the area, who were suddenly "free from a dictatorial government."

"This has been one of the most repressive regimes in the history of mankind," Bush said of the Taliban. "We will continue to work with Northern Alliance commanders to make sure they respect the human rights of the people that they're liberating," he added.

"The Northern Alliance, with whom President Putin has got some influence and I've got some influence, has told us both they have no intention of occupying - and they have said this publicly - they intend not to occupy Kabul, which is fine. That's the way it ought to be," Bush said.

Putin defended the alliance's rush into Kabul, saying "they had to insert there certain security elements to prevent looting and robberies and murders."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cautioned that despite the recent victories by the rebel troops, the military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida is far from over.

"If they reorganize in the south, we're going to go get them. If they go to ground, we will ... root them out," he said. "We are clearly in this for the long haul. We do need to find the leadership of al-Qaida and the leadership of the Taliban."

Putin, for his part, called the Taliban's southern retreat "a cunning move" to try to preserve their manpower and equipment. "Quite a serious amount of work is still ahead," he said. "They did not disappear, they just moved out of the city."

Lakhdar Brahimi, the special U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, urged the Security Council to send an "international security presence," with "adequately trained and armed units" that could ensure order and civilian safety in the major cities while negotiations continue on a post-Taliban government.

Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Jordan have offered troops. Brahimi recommended that this force, if created, remain only until an all-Afghan peacekeeping force could be readied.

Brahimi strongly urged the Security Council not to send a formal U.N. peacekeeping force. Unless there is a credible cease-fire, he said, such a force could quickly end up engaged in fighting.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 Marines who are part of the USS Bataan amphibious group in the Mediterranean Sea are to head into the Arabian Sea in the coming days to join the estimated 2,000 Marines already there, aboard the USS Peleliu. And 2,500 soldiers from the Army's 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, will deploy to Kuwait in the coming weeks, officials said.

The Army troops, an official said, are being deployed to serve as "a more robust deterrent to Iraq," meaning to discourage Saddam Hussein's forces from any move to take advantage of the U.S. focus on Afghanistan in order to once more threaten Kuwait.

While the soldiers are part of a rotation of units in Kuwait, Pentagon officials said the number of troops being deployed is more than twice the usual complement.

The Marine units could mount helicopter-borne raids into Afghanistan, said current and retired military officers. They will also bring light tanks and armored personnel carriers that could be used for powerful, sustained attacks.

"This gives you the ability to go in and strike with a sizable force," said one military officer. So far, the only U.S. ground action in Afghanistan came last month when more than 100 Army Rangers and other Special Operations forces raided two locations outside Kandahar.

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