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Some U.S. troops inside Afghanistan

By Associated Press

Wednesday October 31, 2001

WASHINGTON - The United States has a "modest number" of troops inside

Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday in the Pentagon's clearest acknowledgment yet of the American ground presence in the anti-terror war.

The troops are doing liaison work with anti-Taliban fighters and helping with resupply for those groups, as well as pinpointing targets for U.S. bombers.

"We do have a modest number of troops in the country," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference. He declined to be more specific about the number.

He said some of the uniformed American troops are in the north, where the main Taliban opposition is fighting, and that others have "come in and out of the south" of Afghanistan.

About half of the U.S. bombing effort also is going to help the opposition, Rumsfeld said.

Yesterday, 80 percent of the effort was aimed at front line Taliban troops arrayed against opposition known as the northern alliance.

Meanwhile, in the air campaign, U.S. planes swept through the skies over the front lines north of the Afghan capital throughout the day yesterday. A huge explosion at front lines about 25 miles north of Kabul sent a mushroom cloud at least 1,000 feet high. The origin was not clear, since no airplanes could be seen overhead.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. operation in Afghanistan, met yesterday with officials in Uzbekistan, where about 1,000 soldiers with the Army's 10th Mountain Division have been deployed at an air base

90 miles from the northern Afghan border.

On the subject of ground troops, Rumsfeld has only hinted previously at their presence in Afghanistan. And he and others have said repeatedly that it would take more than an air offensive to go after Osama bin Laden and Taliban leaders who support him.

Officials also have said future U.S. commando raids or other ground fighting against Taliban and al-Qaida troops might be based from an airfield inside Afghanistan.

On Monday, Pentagon officials said setting up a U.S. base at an Afghan airfield is one of several possibilities the Defense Department is considering.

Troops on the ground probably will be needed to deal with bin Laden and other leaders of his al-Qaida terror network, but past wars in Afghanistan - notably the former Soviet Union's failure after 10 years of fighting - have shown the high cost of a conventional large-scale ground invasion.

Appearing with Rumsfeld, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said it would be unwise to announce in advance whether there will be a pause or limiting of air strikes during the holy month of Ramadan.

Rumsfeld on Monday cast doubt on whether the United States would heed some of its Muslim allies' request to wrap up the Afghanistan campaign before Ramadan.

Hoon has said previously that a pause was under consideration. And Islamabad's daily newspaper The News said that in a meeting with Pakistan officials, Franks offered "some assurances" that bombing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan could be stopped or limited to Taliban targets away from civilian areas.

As head of the U.S. Central Command, Franks is running the campaign in Afghanistan.


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