Rumsfeld - U.S. forces in combat situations in Afghanistan

Friday, November 16, 2001

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. special forces have been involved in ground combat in Afghanistan but no American troops have been killed, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday.

"They are armed and they're participating," the Pentagon chief said, describing the ongoing battle to erase the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban militia that supports them.

"They have gone into places and met resistance and dealt with it," Rumsfeld said. He declined to say specifically how many forces are there only saying, "We have hundreds."

He spoke to reporters while en route to a visit to the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Ill.

Rumsfeld also said high-level Taliban leaders have been captured by opposition Afghan forces and American officials are planning to interrogate them.

Asked how senior the leaders were, he said, "They were not privates, some of them."

Rumsfeld's comments came after U.S. officials declared they were "tightening the noose" around Osama bin Laden's terrorist network with selective air attacks and clandestine direct action on the ground.

"We have not had anyone killed but they have been in situations," Rumsfeld said of the U.S. ground operations in Afghanistan.

The defense secretary said there's "a good deal happening" in the south of the country where Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have fled as opposition has overtaken large parts of the country.

Talking about tribes in the south, Rumsfeld said, "They have been moving into towns and villages and cities and putting pressure on the Taliban to leave."

Asked what the U.S. special forces are doing in the south, he said, "They are looking for information. They're interdicting roads. They're killing Taliban that won't surrender and al-Qaida that are trying to move from one place to another."

He said special forces also are also looking for airfields where transport aircraft can land supplies as operations continue in the area.

Rumsfeld didn't specify exactly how many such incidents occurred. He said the U.S. forces had at times been overrun but were able to call in airstrikes to fend off their attackers.

One of the incidents took place near Mazar-e Sharif, he said.

He pledged to keep up the pressure through the Muslim holy time of Ramadan, including hunting down terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and his cohorts "as rapidly as possible."

Pentagon officials said Friday that the bombing of Afghanistan has continued apace.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Richard McGraw said, "No change in operations as a result of Ramadan."

He didn't specify exactly where the bombing was occurring on Friday but offered: "I wouldn't characterize any area as secure."

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