Taliban, Al Qaeda Hurt, but "Not Destroyed," CENTCOM's Franks Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2001 The four-star general in charge of U.S. military actions in Afghanistan told reporters today that Taliban militia and Al Qaeda forces have given up considerable ground in recent days, but they're "not destroyed" and the battle isn't over.
"What is important to us is the destruction of the Al Qaeda network, a terrorist network with global reach, so we remain fixed on that mission, as well as (the destruction of the) Taliban regime in Afghanistan," Army Gen. Tommy Franks said at a Pentagon press briefing together with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"The Taliban is not destroyed as an effective fighting force in Afghanistan," Franks emphasized, adding, "We'll continue to do our best to eliminate both Taliban and Al Qaeda troops."
Both men estimated that anti-terrorist forces now occupy 50 percent to 60 percent of the country since Taliban and Al Qaeda troops began a major retreat that began Nov. 9 from the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.
The humanitarian assistance situation in Afghanistan "gets better every day," Franks said. In the past three days, he remarked, more than 6,500 metric tons of humanitarian supplies have been delivered to the Afghan people. Support to humanitarian relief agencies working in Afghanistan will continue, he added.
U.S. and coalition forces have the initiative and intend to keep it, he noted.
Modest numbers of U.S. special operations forces continue to work with anti-Taliban tribes in southern Afghanistan, Franks noted, adding that the future use of more conventional U.S. ground forces in the country "remains an option." The rules of engagement for U.S. forces should they come into contact with threatening Taliban or Al Qaeda troops are to "destroy those forces," he said.
Rumsfeld noted that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden may try to flee to another country by helicopter, or "on a donkey, a burro, a mule, a horse" or in a truck. Afghanistan is about the size of Texas and is noted for its porous borders, Rumsfeld said. "It is not (like) a bottle that you can cork," he remarked. "It's a large country with a lot of borders. One has to be realistic. I think we'll find him, either there or in some other country."
U.S. and coalition military actions in Afghanistan will cease upon the unconditional surrender of all Taliban and Al Qaeda forces there, Rumsfeld emphasized.
Earlier in the day, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz accompanied New York City Mayor-elect Michael R. Bloomberg on a tour of the Pentagon's west wall, damaged by the Sept. 11 terrorist-hijacked airliner attack. Almost 190 people, 125 in the Pentagon and 64 aboard the plane, died in the crash. More than 5,000 are feared dead from the two New York World Trade Center attacks, another 45 people died aboard a terrorist hijacked airliner that crashed in Somerset County, Pa.
Bloomberg told Pentagon reporters after the tour that "New York has to understand that other parts of the country also are subject to terrorism."
"Our hearts go out to the people who lost their lives, both in the airplane and on the ground here," Bloomberg said. "It is very tragic ... we just wanted people who live here and work here to understand that we are with them in the same sense that we need them to be with us in New York."
"We are all in this together," Wolfowitz said in agreement. "We have Americans out in Afghanistan risking their lives, some of them losing their lives, trying to end this threat. ... Bin Laden is going to join that list of tyrants who've underestimated the strength and will of the American people."
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said earlier in the day that U.S. and coalition forces flew 136 air sorties on Nov. 14. The missions, she noted, were directed against nine planned targets with a focus on Taliban and Al Qaeda command-and-control sites, and cave and tunnel complexes. She said three C-17 aircraft dropped more than 36,000 Humanitarian Daily Ration packs, wheat, and blankets to needy Afghans yesterday.