|MILITARY STRATEGY: BACKGROUND|
October 29, 2001
| GWEN IFILL: Three weeks
ago, Pentagon officials proclaimed U.S. planes were "running out
of targets" in Afghanistan. Taliban positions, they said, had been
"eviscerated." No one is talking that way anymore. At today's
Pentagon briefing, the questions were all about the spotty air war, civilian
casualties, and impatient U.S. Allies in the Islamic world. Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld counseled patience.
DONALD RUMSFELD: As we said from the start of the campaign this will not happen overnight. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It will be years, not weeks or months. The Americans, as you know, do not seek war. We did not seek this war. It was thrust upon us. It is something, as we said, that is more akin to draining the swamp bit by bit.
GWEN IFILL: Today was day 23 of the campaign, one filled with reports of mistakes and miscalculations rather than news of progress. On Friday, eight large U.S. bombs hit an international Red Cross warehouse in Kabul, for the second in two weeks. The Pentagon's explanation: "Human error." The Pentagon has also acknowledged dozens of unintended civilian deaths and injuries. And the death toll from bombs gone astray has continued to mount. Eyewitnesses today said 13 people were killed when U.S. planes aiming for Taliban soldiers north of Kabul instead hit homes nearby. The United Nations reported that American air strikes in the western city of Herat landed on a hospital and a residential village. At least nine people were killed. The Pentagon said it is investigating. But the U.S. has already admitted that it mistakenly killed four civilians near an airport in Kabul, and four others when an errant bomb hit a United Nations mine-removal facility. Rumsfeld said today the Taliban has inflated many of the casualty reports, but they are ultimately to blame, he said, for any collateral damage.
DONALD RUMSFELD: We did not start the war. The terrorists started it. So let there be no doubt. Responsibility for every single casualty in this war, be they innocent Afghans or innocent Americans, rests at the feet of Taliban and al-Qaida. There has never been a conflict where people have not been killed. This is the case here. There is ordinance flying around from three different sources. It's flying around from us from the air down, it's flying around from the al-Qaida and the Taliban up that lands somewhere and kills somebody when it hits. And there's opposition forces and al-Qaida forces that are engaged and shooting at each other. Now, in a war that happens; there is nothing you can do about it. We lost 5,000 people in this country-plus. And we need to stop people, terrorists, from doing that.
GWEN IFILL: Still, the Pentagon has dispensed with all talk of eviscerating the enemy. One senior official said last week that the Taliban may be tougher to remove than first believed.
OFFICIAL: They are proving to be tough warriors. We're in an environment they are obviously experts in and it is extremely harsh. I am a bit surprised at how doggedly they are hanging on to power.
GWEN IFILL: The large-scale Taliban defections the U.S. had hoped for have yet to materialize. That effort was dealt another blow last week when Abdul Haq, a prominent opposition leader, was caught and killed. A CIA plane sent to rescue him arrived too late. A delicate coalition with Arab nations is also in danger, as Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf continues to press Washington to end the bombing before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins in three weeks.
SPOKESMAN: During the month of Ramadan, the United States will have to evaluate because a prolongation of the operation into that month will have negative effects around the Islamic world.
GWEN IFILL: Egypt has also signaled its desire for a quick campaign. A chief aide to President Hosni Mubarak said heavy U.S. bombing during Ramadan would be an "affront" to the world's Muslims. Rumsfeld did not appear to yield on that point today.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The history of warfare is that it has proceeded right through Ramadan year after year after year after year. The Northern Alliance fought the Taliban for the last five- plus years. The Middle East wars have gone on during Ramadan. There have been any number of conflicts between Muslim countries and between Muslim countries and non-Muslim countries throughout Ramadan.
GWEN IFILL: The White House said today the President would meet with Musharraf next week in New York. The pace of the war is certain to be on the agenda.