Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States is poised to dramatically increase the number of American ground forces operating with anti-Taleban resistance groups inside Afghanistan.
Mr. Rumsfeld says the Pentagon wants to triple or even quadruple the number of U.S. teams operating with opposition forces inside Afghanistan. But he told reporters the expansion of the American ground effort has run into difficulties, including poor weather and at least one incident in which heavy ground fire prevented a U.S. unit from landing.
"Recently ground fire was a situation that prevented someone, some team from getting in," said Mr. Rumsfeld, "but we have a number of teams cocked and ready to go. It's just a matter of having the right kind of equipment to get them there and the landing zones in places where it is possible to get in and get out." Mr. Rumsfeld said there were no American casualties in the incident.
The defense secretary declined to be specific about the numbers of troops now involved in the ground effort, which is concentrated in northern Afghanistan. But he said U.S. forces are working closely with anti-Taleban opposition groups to coordinate communications and the supply of ammunition and other military assistance. In addition, the U.S. troops are providing targeting information for ongoing American air-strikes.
Those strikes continue to target Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist command and control facilities in tunnels, bunkers and caves. They are also directed against troops arrayed along the frontlines, facing opposition groups like the Northern Alliance.
Mr. Rumsfeld said other anti-Taleban resistance groups are now receiving U.S. assistance in the form of ammunition and food. He declines to identify the groups.
The defense secretary is meanwhile leveling new charges against the Taleban, claiming their forces are now placing anti-aircraft guns on buildings in civilian residential areas. He charged this is for the explicit purpose of attracting U.S. bombs, so Taleban leaders can then blame the United States for killing civilians.
On other issues, Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed suggestions the U.S. campaign is bogged down. He also dismissed as "absolutely false" suggestions the U.S. air campaign has been in any way restrained or tempered by political considerations.
And Mr. Rumsfeld said he cannot dispute reports indicating the Taleban is obtaining supplies overland from Pakistan. But he said Pakistan's government remains a close ally and said suggestions of official Pakistani complicity in the re-supply effort are wrong.