WASHINGTON - More U.S. commandos will be sent into Afghanistan to assist anti-Taliban forces and call in American airstrikes, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday, but he conceded that weather and hostile fire have been impediments to putting additional troops on the ground.
"We're going to be adding people," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "I'd like to see as soon as humanly possible the numbers of teams go up by three or four times."
Rumsfeld said that the harsh weather in northern Afghanistan, the lack of the right equipment and landing zones, as well as hostile fire, have prevented more commandos from heading into the northern part of the country.
Fewer than 100 Army commandos are operating in the country, military officers said. They refused to be more specific.
"We have a number of teams cocked and ready to go," Rumsfeld said, but in one case "the ground fire was simply too heavy to unload the folks. And so they went back, and they'll try to do it again in a different landing area."
Meanwhile, the defense secretary forcefully responded to complaints from some lawmakers and retired senior officers that the pace of the military campaign is too slow.
The United States started its military campaign against the Taliban regime and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network less than one month after the attacks on New York and Washington Sept. 11, Rumsfeld said, reading from a statement.
"Since that time, roughly three weeks, coalition forces have flown over 2,000 sorties, broadcast 300-plus hours of radio transmissions, delivered an amazing 1,030,000 humanitarian rations to starving people," he said. "Today is November 1st. And if you think about it, the smoke at this very moment is still rising out of ... the ruins of the World Trade Center."
Rumsfeld noted that it took four months after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor before bombers led by Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle first retaliated against Japan. And, Rumsfeld said, it wasn't until eight months after Pearl Harbor that U.S. Marines landed on the island of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific in what marked the first ground offensive against Japanese forces.
"We are now fighting a new kind of war," Rumsfeld said. "Many things about this war are different from others." He said most wars do not result in instant victory and this one won't, either. Even so, he said, "measurable progress" has been made.
A call for patience
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice echoed those comments yesterday, agreeing that the public and U.S. allies will have to be patient.
"The president said this is going to be a long war," she told reporters at the White House.
Rice also said more clearly than other administration official that the U.S.-led military campaign will not be curtailed in deference to Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins in mid-November.
"This is an enemy that has to be taken on, and taken on aggressively, and pressed to the end," she said. "We can't afford to have a pause."
Rumsfeld flatly denied claims that the United States initially had restrained its bombing campaign while trying to fashion a post-Taliban government. He called such statements "absolutely false."
But some officials in both the Pentagon and the State Department have said privately there was a go-slow approach in regard to supporting the Northern Alliance, which is opposed by Pakistan, the key U.S. ally in the region.
Rumsfeld said the first priority of the bombing effort was to take out the Taliban air defenses, then major military targets, such as command and control centers and aircraft. Finally, the bombing runs turned to the Taliban soldiers fighting the Northern Alliance.
"The reason we did it in that sequence is because we did not have people on the ground who could help with the targeting," he said. "The only thing that's shifted is, we have gotten more forces in the region, we've gotten more people on the ground."
Rumsfeld disclosed this week that an unspecified number of U.S. ground troops were operating inside northern Afghanistan. Defense officials said they were mostly - if not exclusively - Army Green Beret teams, which are skilled in training and facilitating the resupply of rebel forces, and calling in airstrikes.
The Green Berets are also knowledgeable in the language and culture of the region. Some of the commandos in Afghanistan are dressed in native garb and traveling on horseback, one of the rebels' main means of transportation in the remote and rugged hills, officials said.
"They're using horses quite a bit to get around," said one military officer.
Rumsfeld said that the United States was providing food and ammunition to other anti-Taliban rebel forces in the central mountains and western Afghanistan, though he declined to name the units.
More aircraft expected
Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that additional reconnaissance aircraft would be heading into Afghanistan, including the all-weather Global Hawk, an unmanned aircraft, or drone, and the Joint Stars, a modified Boeing 707 filled with sophisticated radar for tracking vehicles up to 124 miles away.
"Joint Stars is very good at picking up movement along roads or trails ... of vehicles," he said.
Global Hawk, a 44-foot-long Air Force drone that had its first flight only three years ago, is not the first such plane used in Afghanistan. But it can remain aloft longer and at higher altitudes than other unmanned craft, officials said. It can fly as high as 67,000 feet and stay aloft in excess of 35 hours.
The aircraft has still cameras that can send back pictures and infrared images, meaning it can pick up a heat source against a colder background.
Both aircraft will be key in finding additional targets, which Rumsfeld said is a continuing challenge.
"We don't have good targets here, there's no question," the defense secretary said. "And it takes time to find them. And they are the kinds of targets that if you don't have feet on the ground helping to target, it's very, very difficult to do."
The Pentagon also is having to deal with refugees who are having a difficult time distinguishing between the humanitarian ration packets dropped by U.S. cargo planes and elements of U.S. cluster bombs that fail to explode. Both are wrapped in yellow.
Myers said that fliers are being dropped that explain in words and pictures that one package is safe and the other deadly. "We hope that helps," he said. The Air Force general said plans are under way to change the color of the food packets.
The aerial assault continued against Taliban and terrorist forces, Myers said.
On Wednesday, eight targets were struck, particularly around Mazar-e Sharif, the capital city of Kabul and Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual center in southern Afghanistan.
Yesterday, U.S. jets attacked a Taliban garrison blocking Northern Alliance troops from retaking the northern city of Taliqan, according to news reports.