Rumsfeld cautions against claiming victory too early

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Associated Press WriterTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday cautioned against claiming victory too quickly in Afghan cities that have fallen to rebels, even as a revolt by Taliban prisoners was being put down.

"Anyone who believes it's over in these towns are just wrong," Rumsfeld said on his way to visit the Florida command center for the war.

He said that although many Afghan people are relieved to be rid of Taliban rule and al-Qaida fighters in much of the country, the militias could still be hiding out in towns and homes.

Rumsfeld spoke to reporters as he flew to the Tampa headquarters of the Central Command, the unit responsible for the region of the world that includes Afghanistan.

He said there is still sporadic fighting around Mazar-e-Sharif, where northern alliance rebels claimed to have quelled an uprising by Taliban prisoners. Officials expected the area to be subdued sometime Tuesday, he said.

Meanwhile Tuesday, U.S. officials were trying to learn what happened to a CIA operative who was feared killed in a northern Afghanistan uprising by captured Taliban.

Northern alliance opposition fighters helped by U.S. and British special forces claimed to have quashed the uprising at a fortress prison. Rumsfeld said Monday that officials would be unable to determine if the CIA agent had been captured, killed or injured until the compound was secured.

"The U.S. government is trying to ascertain his whereabouts," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Tuesday as it was reported that the compound had been brought under control.

Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan, Marines continued to arrive and set up shop at an airstrip some 60 miles southwest of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

By Tuesday morning Washington time more than 600 were on the ground, the Pentagon said.

They are being sent in this week partly to help choke off escape routes for Taliban and al-Qaida leaders as more and more of the country falls under opposition control.

The Marines also will make quick strikes when they can and help identify targets for U.S. bombing. Rumsfeld said Monday that "hundreds, not thousands," of Marines were being sent to Afghanistan in an airlift expected to last through Tuesday.

Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference the soldiers are using an airstrip in a remote area of southern Afghanistan as a forward operating base for the fight that began Oct. 7 in retaliation for the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Other military officials said about 1,000 Marines would be involved, the largest number on the ground in a war zone since the 1991 Gulf War.

Marine Cobra helicopters participated in an airstrike on an armored column near their new base Monday. Although the helicopters did not fire on the vehicles -- Navy F-14 Tomcat jets did -- they were in the area and ready to fire if needed, said Maj. Brad Lowell, a spokesman for Central Command.

Rumsfeld said Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, wanted the Marines in southern Afghanistan as part of a broader strategy of blocking roadways.

Rumsfeld, who was meeting with Franks on Tuesday at the U.S. Central Command headquarters near Tampa, Fla., was reluctant to discuss the Marines' Afghanistan role in detail. They may not be a traditional ground force that directly attacks enemy troops, as the Marines did in the Persian Gulf War push into Kuwait to expel an occupying Iraqi army.

This force may instead focus on blocking roads out of the Taliban militia's final stronghold of Kandahar, rather than attacking the city directly. That would make it harder for forces of the Taliban and al-Qaida, the international terror network, to resupply, regroup or escape across the Pakistani border.

The Marines in Afghanistan are trained for coordinated use of ground and air power, which is especially suited to this war. The Marines are from units specially trained for missions including hostage rescue, demolition, counterterrorism and recovery of downed aircraft.

They join several hundred Army and Air Force special operations troops who have been working for weeks alongside anti-Taliban forces throughout Afghanistan, most effectively in the north.

------On the Net:

Pentagon: http://www.defenselink.mil

Central Command: http://www.centcom.mil/new--site/web/Default.htm

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