Taliban Surrendering Kandahar, U.S. Forces in Firefights
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2001 Taliban forces are surrendering in their stronghold of Kandahar, said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, but U.S. forces continue to engage armed enemy fighters attempting to leave the area.
Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, briefed reporters today at the Pentagon and his headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., through an unusual teleconference.
He said U.S. Marines have been interdicting roads via airpower and direct fire. Special operations forces are with opposition forces also closing off the city. Franks said the Americans have engaged in several firefights but that he has not seen large numbers of armed Taliban leaving Kandahar.
He said the noose is tightening around Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. He said he has no reason to believe Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has escaped Kandahar nor that Afghanistan's interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai had engineered a deal to let Omar escape.
Franks likened the situation around Kandahar to that around Mazar-e Sharif in November. Reports from the city are sketchy and Taliban forces are attempting to blend into the countryside. He said it will take two or three days before some control is established in the city.
He said it is possible more U.S. troops will be needed in the country soon. He also said he will make decisions in the next few days on moving around troops already deployed in Afghanistan. "Everything is on the table," he said.
Franks said fighting still rages in the Tora Bora cave complex south of Jalalabad. He said U.S. and opposition forces are doing their best in the "very rugged terrain" to ensure Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders do not escape across the border into Pakistan. DoD officials said they believe bin Laden is still in the country.
"His options are limited," said an official. "Who is going to harbor him and invite U.S. response?"
Franks said he expects the Friendship Bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan will open in the next two or three days. Opening the bridge would speed aid relief to the northern part of Afghanistan. Franks said Uzbekistani officials are concerned about the security environment in Afghanistan and about the safety of the bridge.
Franks spoke at the podium accompanied by British Air Marshal G.E. Stirrup and Australian Brigadier Kenneth James Gillespie. The United Kingdom and Australia have fought since the beginning of the campaign with the coalition against terrorism. Franks said the two men represent more than 50 nations engaged in the effort. At MacDill, 230 representatives from more than 20 nations are "a very visible sign of the international commitment to our overall effort," he said.
The fighting in Afghanistan is entering a critical phase Franks said, adding that any idea the U.S. effort is diminishing is wrong. He said his command is watching other nations in its area of operations that the State Department says encourage and harbor terrorists. He said he's encouraged by circumstances to date.
"We're progressing, progressing well, but we have a long way to go," Franks said. "We're tightening the noose, but the way ahead has been correctly described as one where we'll find a dirty environment and a very dangerous environment."