Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist leaders in Afghanistan are using civilians as human shields. Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledges there have been some unintended civilian casualties in the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, but the defense secretary said Monday that most Taleban claims of civilian deaths and injuries are "unsubstantiated propaganda."
But Mr. Rumsfeld said responsibility for every single casualty in the conflict rests with the Taleban and the al-Qaida terrorists they shelter. "Their leaderships are the ones that are hiding in mosques and using Afghan civilians as human shields by placing their armor and artillery in close proximity to civilian schools, hospitals and the like," Secretary Rumsfeld said. "When the Taleban issue accusations of civilian casualties, they indict themselves."
Speaking as the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan enters its fourth week, Mr. Rumsfeld rejected criticism that the offensive has become bogged down and said progress is being made.
He said, for example, that the United States is supplying ammunition and other items directly to opposition forces inside Afghanistan. He said U.S. forces are also getting improved targeting information from the ground.
Mr. Rumsfeld said some Taleban and al-Qaida leaders have been killed, although he admits none are among the most senior leaders. "They are middle-to-upper high. But to our knowledge none of the very top six, eight, 10 people have been included in that number," he said.
Pentagon officials have acknowledged that rooting out Taleban and al-Qaida leaders is not something likely to be accomplished by an air campaign alone.
But Mr. Rumsfeld would not discuss whether officials are considering the establishment of a forward ground base in Afghanistan to support future commando operations. He said only that the Pentagon is considering several options.