Washington Sen. John McCain said Sunday that America must unleash "all the might of United States military power," including large numbers of ground troops, to prevail in Afghanistan. Bush administration officials said the Taliban is being weakened, but warned Americans must be prepared for a drawn-out conflict.
Some 100 airborne Rangers and other special ground troops struck a Taliban-controlled airfield and a residence of a Taliban leader earlier this month, but McCain said that's not enough. He called for a "very, very significant" force large enough to capture and hold territory.
"I think what we're going to have to put in (is) numbers of forces that are capable of maintaining a base for a period of time, relatively short, so they can branch out and move into certain areas where we believe that the Taliban and al-Qaida's networks are located," the Arizona Republican said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"It's going to take a very big effort and probably casualties will be involved and it won't be accomplished through air power alone," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he agreed with McCain that large numbers of ground troops may be needed. And Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said if President Bush "comes to the conclusion that it's going to take that or something like that in order to get these people and to get this network torn down, I would support it."
Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were noncommittal when asked about significant ground forces. "Let's not go there yet," Card said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Bush's 2000 rival for the GOP presidential nomination, has warned that undue restraint by the U.S. military and allies was emboldening Taliban fighters.
Considerations such as civilian deaths from U.S. bombing and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that begins in mid-November must be "secondary to the job at hand, which is to wipe out nests of terrorism," he said.
Card defended the intensity of the military attacks by the United States and Britain. "We're not holding back at all," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "We'll do what we have to do to win."
Rumsfeld indicated the military campaign would not stop for Ramadan, saying the Taliban themselves have fought during the religious holiday. "There is nothing in that religion that suggests that conflicts have to stop during Ramadan," he said.
McCain brushed aside concerns that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan could prove to be a quagmire, as Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, warned last week.
"The Vietnam War never had the wholehearted support of the American people, and in fact, as it went on, fewer and fewer Americans not only didn't support it but actively opposed it," he said. "I think Americans have been impacted in a dramatic way, and I think the American people's patience and their support is very deep and very permanent."
Card and Rumseld sought to assure Americans that gains are being made even though the Taliban remain firmly in power and Osama bin Laden has yet to be found. The Bush administration also was dealing with a two-pronged public relations setback: 13 reported civilian casualties from U.S. attacks Sunday and the capture and execution of Taliban opposition leader Abdul Haq.
In back-to-back TV interviews, Card emphasized Americans need to be ready for a protracted struggle, using the word "long" six times to describe it. "It could take years," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"This is going to be one where we require patience and persistence, and this president will be persistent," he said on Fox.
Card backed off of the Pentagon's assertion Oct. 16 that the combat power of the Taliban has been "eviscerated," saying instead it has been "disrupted." He also pointed to signs of progress.
"We've certainly taken out most of the significant targets in Afghanistan with our superior military force, and we'll be working with the ground forces to make sure that we can rout the Taliban out so that we can get to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden," he said.
Rumsfeld said steady bombing has forced Taliban fighters to shift positions, providing U.S. bombers "additional targeting opportunities." He also rejected claims that the United States is not providing adequate help for Northern Alliance forces opposing the Taliban.