The U.S. Defense Department is making clear that its strikes inside Afghanistan are aimed in part at helping topple the ruling Taleban. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declines to say if the United States intends to provide Afghan opposition groups like the Northern Alliance with direct military assistance such as weapons or air strikes intended to support advancing opposition forces.
But at a briefing for Pentagon reporters, Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged the latest U.S. and British air-strikes are intended to tip the military balance in the opposition's favor. It was one of several outcomes he said the initial military operations were aimed at. "To alter the military balance over time by denying to the Taleban the offensive systems that hamper the progress of the various opposition forces," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Mr. Rumsfeld did not elaborate. But other Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the initial targets of allied air-strikes included tanks, air fields with aircraft, early warning radars and a command-and-control facility.
The Defense Secretary was also asked if U.S. ground forces have moved into Afghanistan, perhaps to link up with the opposition. He did not answer directly, saying only that if there were "significant numbers" of U.S. troops in the country, it would have been known. Other than that, he said he would not discuss operational activities.
In addition to support for the opposition, the United States is also providing food, medicine and other relief supplies to the Afghan people, especially those who have fled Taleban-controlled areas.
Such moves are intended to underscore the Bush administration's oft-repeated statement that U.S. military action is not aimed at the Afghan people but at terrorists and their supporters a group the Pentagon says includes the Taleban.