DoD Unsure About Taliban Withdrawals: Retreat or Tactics?
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2001 DoD officials are not sure what the Taliban intends to do next.
Reports from Afghanistan show, and DoD officials confirmed, that Taliban troops are rapidly abandoning cities they've held for years.
"It's not clear exactly why they may be doing that," DoD spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem said. He told Pentagon reporters today that the Taliban forces may be in all-out retreat or they may be just pulling back to regroup.
Stufflebeem also said the Taliban troops may just be going home, noting that many of them are ethnic Pashtuns from the southern part of Afghanistan. He said it's difficult to tell who in the southern region are members of the Taliban and who are simply Pashtun tribesmen.
U.S. officials are stressing that the U.S. military's mission in Afghanistan is far from over. "While progress continues to be encouraging, more remains to be done," Stufflebeem said. "Our overall military objective is to eliminate global terrorism, including the Al Qaeda organization."
He said it would be dangerous to assume the Taliban are no longer a threat. "We still believe that we have a hard job in front of us," he said. "It may still take some time."
Updating the operational situation on the ground, he said Northern Alliance troops have "continued to make gains south of Kabul as well as Herat and are at the outskirts of Jalalabad."
He noted that Pashtun tribes in the south are apparently rebelling against Taliban control for the first time in this conflict. U.S. officials can't, however, identify exactly who's fighting the Taliban in and around Kandahar, he said, adding a number of Pashtun tribes in the south would appear now to be opposing the Taliban.
"Whether or not they're working in concert, whether or not they're being organized to work together, we don't know," Stufflebeem said. "All we know is that there are multiple groups now in opposition to the Taliban."
U.S. air forces are continuing bombing sorties, with roughly 80 strike aircraft participating Nov. 13, Stufflebeem said. They "targeted Taliban and terrorist cave and tunnel complexes," he said. Three C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes dropped 39,000 Humanitarian Daily Ration packs, bringing the total delivered since Oct. 7 to nearly 1.5 million.