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US Combat Preparations Continue


The Pentagon is preparing for combat operations inside Afghanistan difficult as those operations promise to be.

Army Secretary Thomas White doesn't minimize the challenges posed by the prospect of ground combat operations in Afghanistan. "It's a complicated situation," he said.

The complications include such questions as whether U.S. forces should link up with Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, staunch opponents of the ruling Taleban. There are also questions about the potential cooperation of neighboring countries whose territories might be used as staging bases for both covert and overt military operations.

Army Secretary White is tight-lipped about U.S. plans. But he says everything is under consideration. "We're not going to share operational details, but clearly people are considering all of the implications of the operational environment," Secretary White said.

Other defense officials concede it will be difficult for U.S. forces to operate inside Afghanistan, sanctuary of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden.

But they say they have confidence in the ability of U.S. Special Operations units which are trained to work covertly in remote, inhospitable and hostile areas worldwide.

"That's what they do," said one senior Pentagon source.

Intelligence sources remain convinced that Osama bin Laden remains holed up in Afghanistan despite reports in recent days suggesting he has already fled the country.

One source tells VOA "that is not the type of guy he is." This source says terrorists, like drug dealers who are forced on the run, are in a weakened position.

Pentagon officials suggest U.S. intelligence about Osama bin Laden is being bolstered by information from other countries and foreign groups with first-hand experience operating inside Afghanistan.

They suggest efforts are under way to form what is termed a "floating coalition" one that in the case of Afghanistan could include Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance.

The Pentagon also appears to be hopeful that the prospect of U.S. military action inside Afghanistan could trigger a popular uprising against the Taleban.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week likened Taleban leaders to repressive dictators. "In many cases, the countries that sponsor terrorism and facilitate it are actually holding large portions of their populations at risk," he said. "They are dictators. There are many people in those countries that do not support the regimes and do not favor the things that regimes like that do."

That is why Mr. Rumsfeld and other officials are stressing any U.S. action against terrorists and their supporters will not be aimed at any particular religion, people or nation.

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