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Taliban Command 'Fractured,' DoD Continues Strikes

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2001 – Defense officials describe the Taliban's control of its troops as "fractured," as coalition efforts in Afghanistan continue.

Joint Staff spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said Taliban forces are now confined to Kandahar province in the southern part of the country. U.S. air attacks on Nov. 28 hit targets around the city and south of Jalalabad. He termed Taliban control as fractured, but noted for reporters at today's Pentagon press briefing that disruptions vary by area.

"There are locations where Taliban commanders have forces with them, so obviously, they have positive control over those forces," he said, adding "for how much longer and to what end remains to be seen." He made the aside, he said, because some Taliban commanders are negotiating surrenders.

"There are others who might take (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar's orders literally and intend to dig in defensively and fight to the death," he said. On the other hand, men in other Taliban units cut off from command and control are dropping their weapons and trying to blend in with the populace, he noted.

Stufflebeem could not confirm press reports that Northern Alliance troops were moving on Kandahar or that high-level Taliban leaders had been captured. DoD spokeswoman Torie Clarke had said earlier in the day that senior Taliban officials had defected and some had been questioned by U.S. intelligence operatives.

At the podium with Stufflebeem, Clarke said slightly over 1,000 Marines are at the forward operating base in southern Afghanistan. Neither official would detail what else is operating at the base. The admiral added the Marines thus far have not engaged Taliban forces.

Coalition forces are working to ready Afghan airfields for use in humanitarian missions. Stufflebeem said survey and repair teams are looking at fields at Mazar-e Sharif and Bagram. "We're also looking at other airfields to determine their suitability," he said.

The U.S. Central Command is still looking at airfields in Tajikistan to base combat aircraft. Stufflebeem said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, CENTCOM chief, has not decided yet to send aircraft to these bases and, until a decision is made, Navy carrier planes will continue to fly most of the sorties. He said the Navy pilots are holding up well.

"(The air crews) are still pumped up; they still have plenty of energy," he said. The Navy crews are flying long missions off carriers in the Arabian Sea. The long missions can be draining, he said, but crews are staving off debilitation by rotating sorties and "off time."

"The sense that I have, from those I've talked to on the carriers, is that they could sustain this indefinitely," Stufflebeem said.

Clarke said U.S. aircraft flew 151 sorties, about 90 percent of them in support of the anti-Taliban opposition. The main attacks centered on cave complexes, she said. Two C-17s dropped 34,440 humanitarian daily ration packets mostly around Mazar-e Sharif; deliveries now tally over 1.9 million packets. Leaflet drops and Commando Solo broadcasts also continued.

During her earlier meeting with reporters, Clarke said CENTCOM suspended parachute drops of humanitarian materials following the death of an Afghan woman Nov. 28. The woman died when bundles containing wheat, blankets and cold weather equipment hit her house 120 miles northeast of Mazar-e-Sharif. A child also was hurt in the incident.

"CENTCOM is looking into the drops, what didn't work and what actions might be taken," Clarke said. "Obviously, this is very unfortunate, and we deeply regret the loss of life."

Central Command officials said the Nov. 28 accident was the second associated with the humanitarian drops, but the first to involve a death. In the first incident, they said, a refrigerator-sized cardboard case failed to open and disperse the ration packets. Fortunately, they said, no one was injured when the entire container dropped through a house.

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