Military campaign is closing in on Taliban, terrorists

Friday, November 16, 2001

WASHINGTON -- American and allied forces are closing in on leaders of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network with more focused airstrikes, more timely intelligence and a more active hunt by U.S. special operations troops in southern Afghanistan, senior Pentagon officials said Thursday.

"We are tightening the noose," said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in the region.

Franks, encouraged by the sudden retreat of the Taliban militia from northern Afghanistan this week, met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Thursday to spell out his evolving plan for completing the destruction of bin Laden's al-Qaida network and its Taliban supporters.

Franks was to present the plan today to President Bush, Rumsfeld said.

At a news conference with Rumsfeld, Franks described in broad terms his approach to capitalizing on the collapse of the Taliban, which he cautioned was not yet complete. He emphasized that from the start of the U.S. bombing on Oct. 7, the goal has been to destroy al-Qaida.

Focused bombing

"The bombing will become more and more and more focused" on al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, Franks said. Anti-Taliban forces in the north are consolidating their territorial gains and U.S. special operations forces in the south are working with other opposition forces in the hunt for the terrorists.

The northern alliance has captured some senior Taliban military leaders, said a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Some senior Taliban officers also have defected, the official said.

The official declined to say whether U.S. officials had interviewed the prisoners.

With the success of the bombing aimed at destroying the Taliban's air defenses and then the Taliban, "we simply have more capability to focus on the alligators," Franks said, referring to the terrorists and their supporters.

Reports by two of those special forces soldiers give idea of the combat in Afghanistan: One described how northern alliance fighters charged into combat on horseback; the second referred to an incident where U.S. forces were nearly overrun by Taliban troops.

The second dispatch, dated Saturday from the northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif, said that on Nov. 6 a group of American soldiers called for airstrikes that prevented their rebel element from being defeated. It said two other American soldiers called in airstrikes while under fire on Nov. 9.

The first report, dated Oct. 25, said alliance fighters on horseback had attacked Taliban armored positions "every day we have been on the ground." The cavalry charges were under mortar, artillery and sniper fire for as much as a mile or more.

Excerpts from the reports were read Wednesday night by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz at a foreign policy conference in Washington. The Pentagon released a transcript Thursday.

Franks said U.S. special forces in southern Afghanistan are advising opposition force commanders, helping them resupply, providing them with arms and calling in close-air support for opposition troops.

U.S. special forces have been operating in the south near Kandahar.

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