Afghan Campaign Entering New Phase
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2001 The campaign to deal with terrorists in Afghanistan is going forward without pause, but it is entering a new phase, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today.
"There's still much to do," Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon press conference. "There are still pockets of resistance throughout the country. The president intends to see the campaign through until the Al Qaeda and the Taliban forces have been rooted out and dealt with."
Rumsfeld also said information that service members have gleaned from Al Qaeda records found in caves, tunnels, houses, and compounds in Afghanistan have "undoubtedly prevented other terror attacks."
Coalition service members and opposition fighters are now entering the Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex in search of Al Qaeda and Taliban members and their records, Rumsfeld said. U.S. special operations forces are taking part in the search, and the number of U.S. service members involved in the effort has grown, he said.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. aircraft had attacked a convoy of 10 to 12 vehicles leaving a compound near Khost, today. He said AC-130 gunships and U.S. Navy aircraft destroyed all the vehicles in the convoy. It was the first bombing mission in three days, Pentagon officials said.
U.S. and British officials are meeting in London to hammer out how the British-led International Security Assistance Force will work with U.S. Central Command. The force will initially be deployed only in the Afghan capital of Kabul. No U.S. troops will participate, although the United States will probably provide logistics, airlift, communications and intelligence assets to the force. Rumsfeld said he imagines the relationship between the U.S. Central Command and the security force "will be rather intimate."
Rumsfeld also commented on press reports that U.S. Central Command's rules of engagement have allowed Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters to escape. "Rules of engagement are aggressive and appropriate, and they have our forces leaning forward, not back," he said. "The soldiers understand the rules. They are checked periodically to see (that) they understand."
The secretary said DoD will not discuss specifics of the rules of engagement. He did say there are areas in which service members are permitted to assume that anyone in that area is an enemy. Other areas have more stringent rules of engagement.
Finally, Rumsfeld thanked people who reflect the spirit of the holiday season, and who have made differences in the lives of those affected by the events of Sept. 11th. "We have some terrific Pentagon chaplains," he said. "We've got hundreds of families and schools and communities across America who sent in messages; you see them in the halls and rooms throughout the building. As a matter of fact, I've got an American flag done in origami that is just beautiful. It's a special thing. It came from an elementary school in Hawaii."
Pace echoed the secretary's sentiments. He thanked service men and women serving overseas and their families "for making it possible for all of us in this room and those watching on television to enjoy a happy holiday season."