Archive for Monday, October 29, 2001

Rumsfeld: Some al-Qaida leaders killed in U.S. strikes

October 29, 2001

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— U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan have killed some leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network but not the most senior ones, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.

He said three weeks of U.S. airstrikes have taken a toll on the Taliban's military and the al-Qaida network that the Bush administration says was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Some midlevel terrorist leaders also were killed in the U.S. bombing, he added.

"To our knowledge, none of the very top six, eight, 10 people have been included in that," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.

Asked about reports that the Taliban had arrested Americans in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said, "There have been no American military captured. Whether someone else may have been ... I don't think so."

Earlier, a Pentagon spokeswoman said the U.S. military has extended its bombing of Afghanistan northward toward the border area with Tajikistan and is also trying to hit cave hide-outs of Taliban and al-Qaida forces.

Speaking as the American effort enters its fourth week, spokeswoman Victoria Clark told reporters the objectives for Monday's bombing included the Taliban military's armor and troop concentrations.

Clark said bombers are trying to work systematically through the complex system of caves.

Asked about a report in The Washington Post that the U.S. bombing had attempted to strike Taliban positions in north-central Afghanistan near Tajikistan, Clark replied, "We've been hitting on a variety of areas around the country, including in that area."

Clark said the bombing Sunday involved 79 sorties into Afghanistan, and included humanitarian food drops and leaflet drops.

The Bush administration is under growing pressure from lawmakers and Afghan rebel leaders to step up the military campaign in Afghanistan and send in ground troops, but key allies say increasing civilian death tolls could undercut support for the U.S. effort.

U.S. attacks on the Afghan capital of Kabul killed at least 13 civilians Sunday, and warplanes returned for a second wave of attacks later.

American bombs pounded targets in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in the south, Herat in the west and Jalalabad in the east, said the Afghan Islamic Press, a private news agency.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, warned last week against "excessive collateral damage" to civilians a concern also voiced by the leaders of China, Malaysia and others.

But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday that America must unleash "all the might of United States military power," including large numbers of ground troops, to prevail in Afghanistan.

"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," McCain said on CNN's "Late Edition."

The largest known U.S. ground force in the Afghanistan region is 2,100 Marines, who are aboard the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea. In addition, 1,000 soldiers with the Army's 10th Mountain Division, are at an air base at Khanabad, Uzbekistan, 90 miles from the northern Afghan border. These troops are trained for combat in wintry and mountainous conditions.

Thousands of U.S. soldiers and Marines were in Egypt this week for training exercises.

White House chief of staff Andrew Card, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were noncommittal Sunday when asked about significant ground forces. "Let's not go there yet," Card said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

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 was inadequate. He called for a "very, very significant" force large enough to capture and hold territory. McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Bush's rival for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, has contended 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," McCain 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."

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.

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