U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is warning of increased human suffering in Afghanistan as winter sets in and the military campaign against the Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist rolls along.
Ever since the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan began over four weeks ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly rejected criticism that the campaign is moving too slowly and that it relies too heavily on opposition forces to do fighting on the ground.
Now, however, Mr. Rumsfeld is showing signs of impatience, warning for the first time of the dangers of prolonging the campaign, especially from a humanitarian standpoint as winter sets in. "Prolonging the war would only further oppress the Afghan people and strengthen the oppressors," he said.
The oppressors, says Mr. Rumsfeld, are the Taleban and the al-Qaida terrorist organization. He says eliminating them is more important a humanitarian goal than providing the Afghan people with direct emergency relief supplies. "The greatest humanitarian aid that could be rendered to the Afghan people is to root out the terrorists, the terrorist networks, the al-Qaida and the Taleban who support them, indeed, who invited them in and have been harboring them while they have done their terrorist attacks around the world," said Donald Rumsfeld.
Pentagon officials say Mr. Rumsfeld's warning about prolonging the campaign is aimed in part at rebuffing appeals for a bombing pause during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The bombing is going ahead undiminished. General Tommy Franks, the Army commander in charge of the Afghan operation, says U.S. air-strikes have made progress in reducing the Taleban's military effectiveness.
But he is also not ruling out the possible insertion of large numbers of U.S. and allied ground forces.
In the meantime, General Franks indicates the current battle being waged by Northern Alliance opposition forces for the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif is important for the future of the campaign. "We're interested in it [Mazar-e-Sharif] because it would provide a land bridge up to Uzbekistan which provides us among other things a humanitarian pathway to move supplies out of Central Asia down into Afghanistan," he said.
But such a pathway could also be used to move allied troops and at least 1,000 soldiers of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division are already in Uzbekistan.
Still, General Franks says it is too early to characterize the battle for Mazar-e-Sharif as a success.