Washington, 19 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Department officials say that U.S. troops are on the ground in Afghanistan. Western news agencies, quoting officials speaking on condition of anonymity, are reporting today the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism has moved into a new phase with the deployment inside Afghanistan of elite U.S. Special Forces. The officials said only a small number of soldiers are in the country now and that a larger presence is likely later.
U.S. aircraft continued for the 12th day early today to bombard targets in Afghanistan. A correspondent in Kabul for Qatar's al-Jazeera satellite television said he saw bombers overhead and heard at least one large explosion in the city's southwest. He reported warplanes also raided the Taliban-controlled city of Kandahar at dawn.
At a news conference in Shanghai, where he is attending an economic summit of the 21-member Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, U.S. President George W. Bush declined to comment on events in Afghanistan. He has said consistently that he will not discuss military operations underway.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday in Washington the focus of the antiterror fight is switching to the ground. He also said the U.S. is providing supplies and other military support to forces in Afghanistan opposing the Taliban.
Rumsfeld said victory in Afghanistan will require more than bombing terrorist and Taliban targets from the air. He said war planes alone will not be enough to rid Afghanistan of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. He said that war planes "can't crawl around on the ground and find people."
Rumsfeld also said the U.S. will provide air support and ammunition to help opposition forces in Afghanistan move on Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that the next few weeks could be the most testing time of the war on terrorism. "I don't think we have ever contemplated this being done by air power alone," Blair said.
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Richard Myers, said yesterday for the first time that U.S. warplanes were striking front-line Taliban forces. He declined to give specifics.