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US Military Planners Focus on Afghanistan, Bin Laden - 2001-09-20


U.S. military planners are focusing on Afghanistan and fugitive terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden as the armed forces prepare their first moves in what will be a prolonged war on terrorism.

Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect in last week's terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.

Now he appears to be the prime target of U.S. military planners as the Defense Department gears up for anti-terrorist operations.

Those operations remain focused for the moment on Afghanistan. Although Osama bin Ladin is reportedly under increasing pressure to surrender or abandon his sanctuaries in that war-ravaged country, U.S. intelligence sources tell VOA they believe the terrorist suspect is still there.

Operations aimed at killing or capturing him could be mounted from neighboring Pakistan, whose military rulers have already pledged support to the U.S. led effort to bring terrorists to justice.

But there are also indications some missions could be staged from the Uzbekistan or Tajikistan to the north - possibly by elite U.S. commando units.

Pentagon officials will not comment on such operational issues.

But Army Secretary Thomas White confirmed Thursday that Army forces, including special operations units, have been ordered to prepare for land combat in support of the Bush administration's anti-terrorist campaign. "We have a very strong special ops capability in the Army and I am sure that this campaign will involve and they are ready to go," he said.

In addition, the Pentagon has already ordered dozens of aircraft, including fighters, bombers, and tankers, to deploy to the Gulf region and elsewhere, including former Soviet Central Asian republics.

And the Navy has dispatched another aircraft carrier battle group to the Mediterranean and points further east.

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