U.S. Defense Department officials confirmed Monday that U.S. forces are targeting Taleban troops north of Kabul and would welcome advances by rebels of the Northern Alliance. U.S. officials are also denying a Taleban claim that American bombs hit a hospital in western Afghanistan, killing more than 100 civilians.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says U.S. warplanes conducted operations Sunday against Taleban troops dug-in north of Kabul. He says recent air strikes have also targeted airfields, military command and control sites and armored vehicles. "The reason for the air attacks on Taleban and al-Qaida forces," he said, "is to destroy Taleban and al-Qaida forces. It happens that they are arrayed against, for the most part, Northern Alliance forces north of Kabul and in the northwest portion of the country. And our efforts from the air clearly are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground."
Secretary Rumsfeld was asked by reporters if the United States is now encouraging Northern Alliance forces to strike out at the Taleban and move towards Kabul. "We have been ready and we certainly are ready to have the Alliance forces move, both north and south," he said.
Secretary Rumsfeld says there is no evidence to support a claim by Taleban officials that U.S. warplanes had struck a hospital near Herat in western Afghanistan, supposedly killing 100 civilians. He also denied Taleban claims that two U.S. helicopters were shot down and 25 U.S. soldiers were killed in Friday's Special Forces raid in southern Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Defense Secretary would not give assurances that the U.S. military campaign will stop during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that starts in mid-November.
Mr. Rumsfeld also says there is no timetable on the military operation to root out terrorists and their supporters in the Taleban. He was responding to a question regarding comments from Secretary of State Colin Powell who said Sunday that it would be in U.S. interests to complete the military campaign before the onset of the Afghan winter in the next several weeks.