A top Pentagon official is hinting U.S. anti-terrorist operations may be under way in other places besides Afghanistan.
Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem is a top operations officer with the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was briefing reporters at the Pentagon on the latest combat Tuesday when suddenly he dropped a hint that Afghanistan may not be the only place where American forces are involved. "This is but one place," he said. "This is the first place. There will be others. In fact, we shouldn't assume that there aren't others ongoing as we speak now."
Reporters were baffled. Some thought Admiral Stufflebeem might be referring to the Philippines. U.S. military advisors were recently sent there to assess that country's needs for combating terrorists suspected of links with the al-Qaida terrorist network headquartered in Afghanistan.
But when asked for clarification, an official spokesman declined to elaborate. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said only that some operations would be visible, others will not.
Nevertheless, another senior official attempted to downplay Admiral Stufflebeem's comments. This official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was only referring broadly to the U.S. led anti-terrorist effort - an effort which the official noted involves financial measures, law enforcement aspects and other elements besides military operations.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has reiterated this comprehensive effort will be a long one. And he again rejected suggestions the patience of the American people is running short. "I think that this is a long, hard effort," he said. "It is not going to be quick. I have a lot of confidence in the American people that they are going to stay the course. The threat to the United States is substantial. Let there be no doubt. We lost thousands of people already, and the threats to additional thousands of people are clear. And what we are doing is pursuing this effort according to the plan that was laid out very early on. It is going according to plan, and there's no doubt in my mind that when we finish, we'll still have good support."
U.S. forces are now in their fourth week of air strikes against Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist targets inside Afghanistan. Mr. Rumsfeld has confirmed a small number of American troops are now working on the ground with opposition forces.