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Pentagon Will Not Comment on Possibility of Ground Forces in Afghanistan - 2001-10-19

There are persistent reports that U.S., British and possibly other nationality elite special forces are now working inside Afghanistan.

"It will keep them looking over their shoulders." That is what one senior Pentagon official says Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist leaders will be doing in the wake of new reports that elite U.S. special operations troops are now operating inside Afghanistan, gathering intelligence and working with opposition forces.

The Pentagon is refusing to comment on the reports, cautioning journalists some of the latest reporting has not been accurate.

Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem of the military's Joint Staff also says such reporting could endanger the lives of special forces soldiers.

"If or when they are on the ground, being there would make them the most vulnerable individuals engaged in this campaign. I will not discuss any matters that could possible put our people at risk," he said.

Despite this, at least some Pentagon officials appear privately pleased. One suggests the uncertainly about whether ground forces are in Afghanistan or not will add to the discomfort of the Taleban and al-Qaida following two weeks of relentless allied air strikes.

Those strikes continue unabated, hitting tanks, barracks, airfields and communications targets. Admiral Stufflebeem says the U.S. goal remains the same in the wake of last month's bloody terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"We're going to bring them to justice or bring justice to them," he said.

Pentagon officials indicate U.S. forces are fully prepared to continue the campaign against the Taleban and al-Qaida despite the imminent arrival of winter and its harsh, cold conditions in Afghanistan.

Richard Kidd is a former U.S. Army officer who until two years ago worked with the United Nations de-mining operation in Afghanistan. He tells VOA the apparent U.S. willingness to operate on the ground in winter has a significant advantage.

"The Afghans don't fight much in the winter. They're normally snowed in in their valleys or in the last few years they take a hiatus and return to the refugee camps or major centers, allowing the fighting to resume in the spring," he explained. "So winter offers some immense challenges but it also offers some opportunities to disrupt the way the Afghans would normally fight."

Mr. Kidd says winter will also compound humanitarian relief efforts. But he claims the biggest obstacle to the delivery of humanitarian goods and services has been the Taleban government. He charges they have actively worked to impede U.N. and private assistance efforts for the past five years.

Mr. Kidd currently works for the Vietnam Veterans of America foundation and its global landmine survey.