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Opposing Forces

October 22, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
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TOM BEARDEN: Anti-Taliban Northern Alliance soldiers cheered the sight of U.S. warplanes today. For the second day in a row, the U.S. attacked Taliban front lines in Northern Afghanistan as part of a new emphasis on targeting soldiers rather than fixed structures. Taliban positions were hit 25 miles north of Kabul. Opposing Northern Alliance soldiers are positioned to their north. The U.S. also hit other Taliban forces near Mazar-e Sharif inside another battle zone, the Northern Alliance is seeking to control. At the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the U.S. is trying to increase coordination with anti-Taliban forces.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The reason for the air attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida forces is to destroy Taliban and al-Qaida forces. It happens that they are arrayed against, for the most part, Northern Alliance forces north of Kabul and in the northwest portion of the country. And our efforts from the air clearly are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground. The Northern Alliance is a group of separate elements that have somewhat consistent interests but on the other hand they also have competing and conflicting interests. They do not always agree with each other as to what should be done. The United States and the coalition forces have, for a period of days, been seeking out concentrations of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. We have had uneven success — to the extent we have excellent ground-to-air coordination, the success improves. To the extent that some of the forces move forward against Taliban and al-Qaida forces, our success improves because it flushes them.

TOM BEARDEN: Yesterday on CNN, Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested the Northern Alliance could surround Kabul in the very near future. As for the campaign’s timetable, Powell said he hoped this matter would be resolved before winter comes next month. Rumsfeld was also asked about timing today, specifically whether the U.S. campaign would pause next month for the Muslim observance of Ramadan.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I would say two things: First, that we have great respect for the views and concerns of the many countries that are cooperating in this effort. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, the sensitivities and the perspectives vary from country to country. We also have to recognize two other things. One is that there continue to be terrorist threats in this world and the sooner we deal with this problem, the less likely it is that you’re going to have additional terrorist attacks.

TOM BEARDEN: Also today the Pentagon responded to a Taliban claim that the U.S. bombed a hospital in western Afghanistan killing more than 100 people.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: We’re not quite as certain about that yet so we’re going to continue to look. The last thing we want to do is cause any civilian casualties so we’re still looking. We don’t have the evidence yet.

TOM BEARDEN: Secretary Rumsfeld addressed the growing tension between the Pentagon and its press corps over what information should be made public.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Our goal is not to demystify things for the other side. This is a very complicated set of problems. The goal is to confuse. It is to make more difficult. It is to add cost. It is to frighten. And it is to defeat the Taliban and the al-Qaida. I am admittedly withholding some information that I think would put American lives at risk or would jeopardize the effort we’re engaged in. But in terms of saying it’s a lot, it isn’t. The press in this… This is a very open society. And the press knows, you know, almost as much as exists and almost as soon as it exists.

TOM BEARDEN: Over the weekend the Pentagon did acknowledge that Special Forces attacked a Taliban-controlled airfield and a residence of Taliban leader Mullah Omar near Kandahar. The U.S. said the intelligence gathering operation was a success but acknowledged that two American soldiers were killed in a helicopter accident in a supporting operation in Pakistan. The Taliban claimed to have shot down two U.S. helicopters and to have killed 20 American servicemen.

JIM LEHRER: Now some reaction in northern Afghanistan. Mark Austin of Independent Television News reports.

MARK AUSTIN: Reporter: In the hills of northeast Afghanistan, anti- Taliban forces are targeting their enemy. (Gunfire) It has become a daily ritual.

MAN: Allah…. (Gunshot)

MARK AUSTIN: Sporadic rather than heavy shelling, and significantly, the Taliban are fighting back. Listen to the haunting screech of an incoming rocket… (Low howl) (Distant explosion) …This one landing close to Northern Alliance positions on a nearby ridge. This fighting has been going on for several hours now, and what it shows is that Taliban– in this area, at least– still have some fight in them. Northern Alliance fighters beckon us to forward trenches, keen to show the results of their firepower, but the truth is this is more for show than anything else. Without American bombing of Taliban front lines here, this fighter admits they’re powerless to advance. “The Taliban terrorists are strong here– I’d be really happy if the Americans bombed,” he told me. But at the moment, American jets are concentrating on Taliban troops around Kabul and around Mazar-e Sharif, miles to the West. Alliance forces are gathering for an intended advance across the North, but they are poorly armed, poorly trained, and even with the help of American strikes and Special Forces, may still struggle to make headway.

JIM LEHRER: For the record, going back to Tom Bearden’s piece, Secretary Rumsfeld denied the Taliban claim that two U.S. helicopters were shot down.