A senior U.S. defense official says American air-strikes in Afghanistan are beginning to take a heavy toll on Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist forces.
The senior Pentagon official believes the Taleban has suffered what he describes as "substantial" personnel losses in heavy U.S. bombing raids over the past week.
Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem of the military's Joint Staff says in some places, Taleban troops have stopped firing back at opposition forces. "It's been a matter of days in some areas where the Taleban have responded to opposition with fire," he said. "My guess is that would be because they are either hunkered down and they're not coming out or they are not able to fire. So I think that's a very positive sign."
Admiral Stufflebeem also says al-Qaida terrorists have suffered losses of personnel and facilities and are no longer able to operate freely around Afghanistan. He dismisses published reports suggesting the Taleban and al-Qaida are being reinforced by substantial numbers of volunteers crossing into Afghanistan from neighboring countries.
He says overall U.S. strategy is aimed at making the normally harsh winter environment in Afghanistan even harsher this year for the Taleban and the terrorists. "We continue to strike at Taleban infrastructure wherever possible, to wither away the Taleban's ability to regenerate, re-equip and re-supply forces in the field as the demanding winter season approaches," he said.
Pentagon officials say their hope remains that opposition forces like the Northern Alliance will seize the opportunity afforded by U.S. air strikes and direct U.S. military aid to advance into Taleban-held territory.
But Admiral Stufflebeem says it is up to the Northern Alliance to decide when to move.
It would be incorrect for us to assume that after so many missions of prepping a particular battlefield that we would say 'it's ready for you to go, you should be going now.' They've got to make that determination themselves on the ground and we are sure that they will and once they're comfortable we will attempt to help them again in any way that we can.
Meanwhile, Admiral Stufflebeem says a U.S. military assessment team is in the neighboring country of Tajikistan to evaluate three airfields for possible use as bases for U.S. air-strikes into Afghanistan.
He says similar teams have been inspecting facilities throughout the region. He says being closer to Afghanistan would be advantageous. Current strikes are being launched from aircraft carriers in the Arabian sea or from land bases even further away.