US Military Prepares Ground Force Offensive

Published: Sat 13 Oct 2001 08:59 PM
by Selwyn Manning
Ground troops and special military forces look set to strike deep into Afghanistan in a planned second phase offensive in the USA’s push against terrorism. The move is timed to ease off a heavy bombing campaign that has angered Islamic religious observers around the world.
International concern is has grown against the sustained bombing on Afghanistan particularly due to a rising humanitarian disaster with people on the move and without the necessities of live.
The United States military briefly eased its bombing raids into Afghanistan on Friday, observing momentarily a Muslim day of prayer. However, the short-lived quiet was followed soon after with heavy bunker busting bomb raids and in the early hours of Saturday [Afghan time], powerful explosions brought fresh terror to Kabul for a sixth night.
The bombings have sparked protest around the world, with Muslims in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, South East Asia and also among citizens of the west demanding a cease to the airborne assault.
In Afghanistan, exhausted residents were woken by at least eight powerful explosions early Saturday, with one bomb being dropped on Kabul’s battle-scarred airport, witnesses reportedly said. The Taliban's death toll estimate on Friday was approximately 300.
Pressure is now being applied to the United States Bush administration by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other allied Middle Eastern nations to advance plans for a ground force option into Afghanistan.
Saturday morning, New Zealand time, United States secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld told journalists: “Clearly, at some point when we feel we have done a certain amount with respect to those Taliban and al Qaeda military targets, it may very well be more appropriate for ground forces to moving in areas where we previously have been bombing.”
The Question followed: “Do you mean U.S. ground forces or opposition ground forces?”
Rumsfeld: “I was referring to forces that are on the ground… No, I really, the proper way to answer it is that there are a variety of forces on the ground that oppose al Qaeda and oppose Taliban.
“There are even some in Taliban that oppose the senior elements of Taliban, the Omar and his lieutenants that have connected themselves so closely to al Qaeda. And it is those forces that have been understandably, are reasonably static in their deployments during the period when we've been attacking the military targets. And at that point where we are not attacking military targets in close proximity to those troops, then it's for those troops to make judgments as to whether or not they intend to take advantage of the work that's been done for them,” Rumsfeld said.
USA Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also hinted at a ground force escalation, saying that this week's air-strikes were a prelude to ground action.
"Many of the conventional efforts that you see today are stage-setters for follow-on operations," Myers told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. "Some of those efforts may be visible, but many will not."
In London, a British defence ministry spokesman confirmed the U.S.-led coalition had launched a fresh wave of military operations in Afghanistan.
"I can confirm there is coalition activity. British forces are involved in a support role," the spokesman said.
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney then alluded for the first time to the possible use of ground troops in the campaign against the Taliban for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the U.S.'s prime suspect in the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Cheney said part of the operation could involve "boots on the ground".
"I mean, you know you're going to have an intelligence piece of it; you know you're going to have a military piece that's probably going to involve air, maybe some special ops, so-called boots on the ground, et cetera," Cheney told public television's "News Hour with Jim Lehrer."
United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld earlier said it was time for the Afghan forces opposed to the Taliban to move against the regime in the areas that had been bombed, but clarified he was not speaking of U.S. ground troops.
"We feel we have done a certain amount with respect to those Taliban and al-Qaeda military targets and it may very well be more appropriate for ground forces to be moving in areas where we previously have been bombing," Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington.
"There are a variety of forces on the ground that oppose al-Qaeda and oppose the Taliban."
The Taliban has countered by calling religious observers of the Muslim faith to observe fatwas, or religious edicts, requiring their followers to wage jihad, or holy war, against the United States. It’s a clever move to glean division among religious sects on a global scale.
The Islam Online reports the call: "Now it's proved that [U.S. President George W. Bush] is the biggest terrorist in the world and it's our duty to give him a lesson as we have to the British and the Soviets," one cleric told a congregation in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
"Jihad is compulsory for every Muslim and those taking sides with the American attacks should be killed,” the Islam Online reported.
Al-Jazeera the Arabic language satellite television network said air defences in Kabul appeared to be damaged - explaining that anti-aircraft fire had started before explosions were heard.
Also, on Friday, Sher Sha Hamdard, an official with the Taliban's Bakhter news agency in the eastern city of Jalalabad, said the death toll from the previous night’s attack on the village had risen from the earlier estimate of 100.
The village was called Kadam and lies about 40 kilometres (24 miles) west of Jalalabad, which has been the target of repeated US attacks since air strikes began on Sunday.
The Taliban's claims could not be independently verified. Only four civilian deaths have been independently confirmed since the US-led air strikes began on Sunday -- four guards killed when a de-mining agency was hit in Kabul.
"There used to be an old training camp there but since those people heard that the Americans were going to bomb they all left," Hamdard reportedly said, adding that the dead were "mostly women, children and the elderly because many of the men were away."
USA’s secretary of defence Rumsfeld said: “Our interest is solely, specifically and explicitly what the president has said; it is to root out the terrorists and the people that are helping them, and to help the people of that country get rid of the foreign invaders who have come in and taken over a major chunk of their country.
“And, by the way, we also are anxious to try to see what we can do from a humanitarian standpoint. And we have been doing that all year, and we are doing it now; we're doing it both through the normal food channels of AID and the various non-governmental organizations and U.N. We're doing it directly through military airlifts -- through C-17s.
“And underlining the truth that those who contend that this has anything to do with any religion are untruthful and lying. And they are the people who are going around the world killing innocent people,” Rumsfeld said.
Selwyn Manning - Scoop Auckland
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