Pentagon Targeting Taliban and Al-Qaida Leadership

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said, ”The strike was considered effective in terms of the damage it did to the building, but beyond that there’s not much to tell at all.”

U.S. B-1 bombers dropped ten precision-guided bombs on the compound, which was thought to hold leaders of the Taliban militia, the al-Qaida network, and Wafa, a Saudi humanitarian aid organization U.S. officials say is helping to fund the terrorist network.

Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said targeting the groups’ leadership is a key tactic in obstructing the coordination of the Taliban and al-Qaida military efforts. Seven weeks of U.S. airstrikes and the Northern Alliance occupation of key Afghan cities have almost completely severed communications between Taliban and al-Qaida leaders and their troops, he said.

“If we break the leadership of the Taliban and break the leadership of al-Qaida, there is reduced motivation for troops to stay loyal to the cause and continue to fight,” Stufflebeem said. “The effect of separating, isolating and reducing the leadership is then that the troops under their control are not going to know necessarily what it is they should be doing.”

Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban’s supreme leader, was not harmed in the strike on the compound, Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan, said. According to Zaeef, the bombs hit the house of a local Taliban leader, leaving all top Taliban figures unharmed.

Omar has reportedly encouraged remaining Taliban fighters to hang on to the provinces they still control.

“Don’t vacate any areas,” a source on the Pakistani border quoted Omar as saying in a radio message. “This is not a question of tribes. This is a question of Islam.”

The Pentagon said its public relations campaign over Afghanistan is beginning to produce some tangible results, persuading some Taliban fighters to surrender to opposition forces. In the past three weeks, anti-Taliban groups have taken almost 90 percent of the country.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, is continuing to drop sets of leaflets — some containing information on humanitarian aid, others encouraging defections of Taliban fighters. The packages also contain wanted posters of Taliban and al-Qaida leaders. Other persuasive techniques have included radio messages promoting the U.S. position in the war and advertisements of the $25 million reward for the capture of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, head of the al-Qaida network.

“We are starting to see some success from those,” Stufflebeem said. “In having interviews with those who are detained, there is information that is coming forward that they are having a positive effect.”

Additional Marines arrived at an airbase south of Kandahar today, swelling ranks to between 750 and 800 soldiers. The Marines, who first landed at the desert airstrip Sunday, are charged with patrolling desert areas, providing target information, and expected to help cut off Taliban and al-Qaida escape routes from Kandahar.

Diplomatic developments

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar today told President Bush that Spain would commit military forces to the U.S. war on terrorism if such a need presents itself.

“We intend to maintain and, if necessary, strengthen our political commitment, our cooperation in the area of intelligence and security and information-sharing and, if need be, to commit military forces to that battle,” Aznar said in a meeting at the White House.

Earlier this month, Spanish authorities arrested eight people suspected of having links to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and controversy soon developed surrounding laws of extradition and Mr. Bush’s new executive order calling for terrorism suspects to be tried in military tribunals.

The White House yesterday said it would not ask Spain to hand over the eight suspects because it would violate Spanish laws of extradition, but Aznar seemed willing to cooperate with the United States.

“Can I also say that the United States is free to organize its own jurisdiction as it sees fit as a free and democratic country,” Aznar said. “Any action taken on the extradition issue will be taken with full respect of Spanish and United States law.”

Also today, President Bush met with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the obstacles relief organizations face.

“There’s no question we have a large task ahead of ourselves,” President Bush said. “We’ve got ample money … We’ve got the food. The fundamental question is, in an environment that is not very secure, how do we get the food in to people? And that’s what we’re working on.”

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