United States military forces are broadening the scope of their attacks on Taliban forces, while President Bush hopes to broaden support for the U.S. campaign with a busy week of diplomatic meetings.
U.S. bombers pounded Taliban troops along the frontlines north of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital today, while U.S. helicopter gunships attacked a hotel in Kabul that the Taliban has used as a military headquarters.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters today there are now four U.S. special operations units working with four different groups of oppostion forces in Afghanistan, and added that not all of the teams were in the north — the first indication that the United States is working with Taliban opponents besides the Northern Alliance rebel groups.
And U.S. military personnel are in Tajikistan studying three airfields to determine whether they could be used as bases of operation in Afghanistan, as bombing continued near the Afghan capital of Kabul.
"Certainly airfields closer to Afghanistan would give us an advantage in being able to generate sorties," said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem at a Pentagon briefing today.
The U.S. assessment team in Tajikistan is examining bases at Kulyab, Khojand and Kurgan-Tyube, all of which are within 50 miles of the Afghan border. Rumsfeld met Saturday with Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov, but did not emerge with a deal to use airfields.
Busy Week for Bush
President Bush received a further endorsement of the U.S. military campaign today from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria during a White House meeting.
"We share the same suffering," Bouteflika told reporters afterward, referring to his country's struggles with terrorists and Muslim fundamentalists.
President Bush has numerous diplomatic meetings planned for later in the week, including sessions with French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been by far the United States' most outspoken supporter since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 4,600 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Also on the agenda: meetings with leaders and high-ranking officials from Kuwait, India, Morocco, Ireland and Brazil. To top off his week, Bush will address the United Nations General Assembly about terrorism on Saturday.
Maintaining international support for the military campaign is especially important with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan beginning in mid-November. The United States has signaled its intention to continue military action during Ramadan, despite the possibility of creating a popular backlash in Muslim countries.
Rumsfeld, traveling in India today, sounded a more optimistic note than the Pentagon officials in Washington, suggesting a shortened timetable for military action in Afghanistan. The defense secretary said the military operation, intended to topple the Taliban regime and hunt down suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, "will take the least possible time."
Taliban Maintains Defiant Stance
In the face of U.S. efforts, the Taliban remains defiant with one of the regime's leaders saying the world can expect a drawn-out campaign.
"We are preparing for a long war," Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said today at a news conference. "This power that the world calls a mighty force will face fiasco."