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Pentagon Declines Comment on Reports of US Ground Troops in Afghanistan - 2001-10-19

The Pentagon is refusing to comment formally on new reports about the presence of small numbers of elite U.S. ground forces inside Afghanistan.

One senior defense official indicated Friday the reports may be part of a deliberate effort to unsettle the Taleban and their al-Qaida terrorist allies.

For some weeks now, it has been believed that a small number of U.S. and possibly British commandos have been moving in and out of Afghanistan, establishing links with anti-Taleban forces, conducting reconnaissance, and gathering targeting information.

But the Pentagon has declined to comment formally on such covert special operations.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated to reporters that one reason for the silence is that such ground operations are currently small-scale and in a state of flux.

"We have decided that until we have an activity that is significant and noticeable, that it's probably not useful to get into those kinds of questions, because they can change from time to time," he said.

Despite this, a senior defense official told VOA the Pentagon is not displeased about the plethora of new reports about the presence of U.S. ground units inside Afghanistan.

This official said the uncertainty should unsettle Taleban leaders and the al-Qaida terrorist network - adding to the discomfort already caused by nearly two weeks of allied air-strikes.

In the meantime, another senior official said the Pentagon has obtained new evidence that the Taleban is exaggerating claims of civilian casualties from U.S. bombing.

This official told VOA that while the Taleban claimed up to 200 civilians were killed in a U.S. attack on Karam near Jalalabad, the Pentagon has learned there were fewer than 20 deaths. The official also said these fatalities were caused by secondary explosions of Taleban munitions.