U.S. military operations against selected Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist targets inside Afghanistan are continuing for a fourth-day. But officials are keeping silent about their latest operations. U.S. air strikes have largely succeeded in destroying Taleban air defenses, permitting American aircraft to operate around-the-clock.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggests to reporters at the Pentagon that means military planners can move on to the next phase of the campaign. "We are moving along well towards our goal of creating conditions necessary to conduct a sustained campaign to root out terrorists," he said.
Military analysts say it seems likely a "sustained campaign" means the use of U.S. ground forces, perhaps inserted by helicopter to hunt down terrorists.
Pentagon spokesmen said nothing is being ruled out. But they also say they will not comment on current or future operations.
They also caution that Mr. Rumsfeld's use of the phrase "root out", while suggesting ground operations, does not necessarily mean that. One defense official told VOA, "there are different ways to root out people." The official offered no elaboration.
But other military assets available for penetrating underground hide outs include so-called bunker-buster heavy bombs.
Mr. Rumsfeld and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces, General Richard Myers, indicate one of their hopes is that U.S. air strikes may be forcing terrorists and their supporters on the run. That could make them, what Mr. Rumsfeld called "targets of opportunity" for U.S. aircraft. "We will be gathering additional intelligence from the ground and through various intelligence assets that will enable us to seize targets of opportunity, and that means you have to wait until they emerge," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said there are already some indications that is happening. "We do, you know, pick up scraps of information that some things like that are happening. It is very difficult to verify them. But it is pretty clear that the Taleban and the al-Qaida are feeling some pressure," he said.
In addition to U.S. air and naval forces in the region, some ground troops have already been deployed to Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan to the north. Other units capable of ground operations are with amphibious groups at sea. Some elite special operations forces may already be inside Afghanistan, conducting reconnaissance missions.
All would be capable of search-and-destroy activities aimed against Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist forces.