WASHINGTON -- The United States is working to land hundreds more clandestine warriors in Afghanistan to intensify pressure on the Taliban, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.
Rumsfeld said the extra troops are crucial to U.S. efforts to improve the bombing campaign by pinpointing targets and coordinating with opposition forces. He mentioned no specific number but said he hoped for a three- or fourfold increase from the current number, which is between 100 and 200.
"We have a number of teams cocked and ready to go," he told a Pentagon news conference on the 26th day of U.S. bombing. "It's just a matter of having the right kind of equipment to get them there in the landing zones ... where it's possible to get in and get out, and we expect that to happen."
He said the plan includes placing U.S. troops with a wider ring of rebel forces, in both northern and southern Afghanistan. The United States also is supplying rebels with ammunition and arms "as fast as we can," once liaison forces make sure the supplies will be used and not sold, he said.
Rumsfeld revealed that one recent attempt to land U.S. special operations troops was called off after the helicopter-borne troops encountered ground fire, presumably from the Taliban militia. The Taliban control most of Afghanistan and are harboring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.
Other landing teams have been thwarted by bad weather, Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld was joined at the Pentagon news conference by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who reported strikes Wednesday on a cave complex near Kabul. The Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, he said, use these caves as secure locations for personnel, ammunition and equipment.