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US: Afghan Tribes in South May Be Turning Against Taleban - 2001-11-03

U.S. defense officials are moving to expand their contacts with anti-Taleban opposition groups inside Afghanistan. They are also preparing to deploy some additional high-tech surveillance equipment for the anti-terrorism campaign.

A senior defense official says intelligence reports indicate some tribal groups in southern Afghanistan may now be actively fighting the Taleban.

"I have seen reports that there are tribes who are not supportive of the Taleban in the south," said Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, a top operations officer with the military's Joint Staff. "Within some of those reports there are indications that some may be actively fighting the Taleban and we certainly hope so."

Defense officials say U.S. special forces have been in-and-out of southern Afghanistan in a bid to establish contact with such groups.

Admiral Stufflebeem acknowledges U.S. relations with southern groups are not yet as close as those with Northern Alliance opposition forces. He declines to give any information on any American support given or offered to southern groups so far.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Admiral Stufflebeem says allied air-strikes aimed at Taleban and al-Qaida forces arrayed along the frontlines against the Northern Alliance are having an impact.

As for U.S. efforts to track down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the Admiral says he is elusive but what he terms the noose around him is tightening. "We are tightening the noose. We are confident in some of our capabilities to be able to help tighten this noose," he said. "And there is a resolute mission to do this, firstly, and, secondly, we have the means. It's a matter of time."

The means may include two of the country's most sophisticated surveillance aircraft. Pentagon officials confirm deployment orders have been issued for the unmanned Global Hawk spy plane along with the so-called J-STARS manned aircraft. J-STARS stands for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. It is capable of tracking the movement of large numbers of ground vehicles even in poor, overcast weather.

Global Hawk is a long-range, high-altitude unmanned plane capable of loitering for hours over an area and transmitting to field commanders images and other reconnaissance data.