U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says victory in Afghanistan means eliminating the al-Qaida terrorist network and its Taleban supporters.
Mr. Rumsfeld traveled to Whiteman Air Force Base in the midwestern state of Missouri Friday to meet crews of America's batwing-shaped stealthy B-2 bombers.
These are the long-range aircraft that have been flying directly from the United States to Afghanistan and releasing weapons on terrorist and Taleban targets.
But reporters who accompanied the defense secretary were less interested in the air effort than in reports that U.S. ground forces may have entered the campaign.
Mr. Rumsfeld refused to discuss the reports. He said only there were already ground forces in Afghanistan: the forces of the anti-Taleban opposition. He noted the United States and its allies in the anti-terrorist campaign are helping them. "We are encouraging them and to the extent we can assist them in being more successful, clearly it puts greater pressure on the Taleban and the al-Qaida," he added.
During remarks to assembled Air Force personnel, Mr. Rumsfeld praised their efforts to defeat those responsible for last month's bloody terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He told them his notion of what victory will mean in the campaign codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom. "Well, victory means liquidating the terrorist networks and putting them out of business," he said.
Pentagon officials say U.S. air strikes against terrorist and Taleban targets in Afghanistan are taking a toll. They report increasing numbers of defections to the opposition from Taleban ranks. They also report terrorists and Taleban leaders are seeking shelter in mosques to avoid U.S. bombs and missiles.