Bush vows terror fight will go on

U.S. plans to battle `across the world, across the years'

`We will hunt them down'

President predicts success in struggle to find last Taliban

War On Terrorism

The World

November 22, 2001|By David L. Greene and Tom Bowman | David L. Greene and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Buoyed by military victories against the crippled Taliban, President Bush sent a blunt warning to other nations yesterday that Afghanistan was "just the beginning" and that the United States would be combating terrorism "across the world and across the years."

The president, appearing before a raucous crowd of 10,000 soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, urged Americans to be patient. The war in Afghanistan is far from over, he said, adding that U.S. forces were intensifying their efforts to find Osama bin Laden and to dismantle his scattered terrorist cells "piece by piece."

"We have made a good start in Afghanistan, yet there is still a lot to be done," Bush said, cautioning that "success against these cells may come more slowly."

The tough part may be ahead, the president said, as Taliban fighters move into bunkers and caves.

"These hideouts are heavily fortified and defended by fanatics who will fight to the death," he said. "The enemy hopes they can hide until we tire. But we're going to prove them wrong. We will never tire and we will hunt them down."

A day before Thanksgiving, the president offered gratitude to families of soldiers who have been deployed or soon will be, telling them, "Our nation and the world are counting on your loved ones."

Bush dined on holiday turkey with soldiers in the mess hall at the base, which also houses the 5th Special Forces Group, some of whose members have been on the ground in Afghanistan for weeks, working alongside anti-Taliban forces and sometimes operating independently, blowing up bridges and calling in airstrikes.

With the Taliban in retreat, Bush said the United States was working with the United Nations "to move quickly toward a government that is broadly based, multi-ethnic, and protects the rights and dignity of all Afghan citizens, including women."

Both Bush and the Pentagon made clear, however, that there is still much military work to be done in Afghanistan.

While most of northern Afghanistan is under the control of opposition forces, the south is proving more difficult to wrest from the Taliban, which is clinging to Kandahar, the regime's spiritual and military center. Top Taliban officials and bin Laden himself are thought to be hiding in the south.

Marines expected to land

More than 1,000 Marines are expected to soon join the fight in southern Afghanistan, officials said. The Marines would provide greater firepower to the hundreds of lightly armed Army and Air Force special operations troops already seeing action.

About 4,000 Marines are aboard ships in the northern Arabian Sea, notably the troop ships USS Peleliu and the USS Bataan. As many as 3,200 of them could be put on the ground, a senior Marine officer said.

While the Peleliu has been stationed in the Arabian Sea since the start of the campaign, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the allied effort in Afghanistan, recently requested the additional Marines aboard the Bataan. The Bataan had been in the Mediterranean taking part in a military exercise with Egypt.

One possible use for the Marines would be to send in one or two 800-man infantry battalions, equipped with TOW anti-tank missiles, 50-caliber machine guns and grenade launchers.

Each ship could also deploy a larger force, a battalion landing team consisting of 1,200 Marines. This more lethal force would include six howitzers as well as light armored vehicles with 25 mm guns. Such a force would have with it combat engineers to destroy caves and minefields, along with reconnaissance units who are adept at ferreting out a hidden enemy.

Moreover, each of the two Marine expeditionary units aboard the Peleliu and the Bataan are equipped with four Cobra attack helicopters, designed for close air support and anti-tank missions. The helicopters carry TOW anti-tank missiles and could be fitted for other rockets and missiles. Each Cobra also is armed with a 20 mm, three-barrel cannon.

Defense officials said that while the Marines could be sent from the Arabian Sea as part of raids, a more likely option would be to set up a base in southern Afghanistan, providing a jumping-off point for more intensive military action against the Taliban and al-Qaida forces.

"If I were a betting man, I think they would go in and set up a forward operating base," said one official. "They have the ability to seize, occupy and defend, set up an airbase." The Marines could use heavy-lift Sea Stallion helicopters to quickly move ashore.

This would not be the first job for the Marines in the Afghanistan conflict.

Last month two Marine Sea Stallion helicopters came under small-arms fire in neighboring Pakistan while trying to salvage a downed U.S. Black Hawk helicopter. The Black Hawk had been on standby to assist in special operations raids into Afghanistan.

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