Special Forces Begin Ground Operations in Afghanistan
Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf acknowledged that U.S. special forces have begun helicopter-borne “search and rescue missions” over the past 48 hours. The troops left from two strategically located Pakistani air bases in Pasni and Jacobabad, near the Taliban stronghold of Khanadar.
U.S. officials told several news organization that members of American Special Forces entered southern Afghanistan on a mission to persuade ethnic Pashtun leaders and their militia to fight with anti-Taliban forces and topple the Taliban government.
The Pashtun group leader Mohammed Zaman Ghun Shareef announced Friday a group resolution to demand the Taliban cede the government over to a “broad-based” government.
“If they won’t do it, and worse comes to worse, we will go and fight,” Shareef said.
Reuters reported today that U.S. Special Forces have also begun secret operations from a third Pakistani air base in Dalbandin, a small town along the southwestern Afghan border.
The Pakistani government maintains that their air bases will be used for logistical support only.
U.S. Special Forces soldiers are also stationed near the Uzbek-Afghan border and aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, off the coast of Pakistan.
The Washington Post reported that other U.S. Special Forces efforts include reconnaissance missions, assisting northern opposition forces, and possibly directing attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.
At a Pentagon briefing, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem did not comment on any aspect of the ground operations, saying ground forces would be the most “vulnerable individuals” and they can be discussed when that “vulnerability goes away.”
Although Pentagon officials have avoided providing details on ground operations, top officials continue to allude to the limited use of special ground forces now that the air strikes have weakened the Taliban’s military.
“We are prepared to use the full spectrum of our military capabilities,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers said yesterday. “Obviously, that’s not just bombers, that’s just not carrier-based aircraft; that’s other assets as well. We talked earlier about Special Forces.”
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday that the U.S. would supply opposition forces, like the Northern Alliance, with “food and ammunition” to move in and overthrow the Taliban regime.
“Our effort would be to try to make them successful,” he said, “to do things that are helpful to them so that they have the opportunity to move forward, as they are, towards Mazar-e-Sharif; to move forward, as they are, towards the northeast, where there is an al-Qaida unit that they’ve been working on; to move south towards Kabul.”
According to wire services, approximately eight U.S. Special Forces officers arrived in northern Afghanistan Wednesday to meet with Northern Alliance Gen. Rashid Dostum. The group reportedly discussed the alliance’s ongoing battle for Mazar-e-Sharif and the possible U.S. coordination of attacks against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.
Despite reports of defections from the Taliban government, Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef told reporters in Pakistan that the Taliban remained united and supported by the Afghan people. He also said the Taliban would continue to protect Osama bin Laden.
“The issue of Osama has not changed,” Zaeef said. “It is a matter of our faith — we might as well change our faith.”