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."
But bin Laden himself appears to have created something of a backlash in the Arab and Muslim worlds with a video statement released over the weekend in which he denounced the United Nations, the U.S.-led attacks in Afghanistan, and Muslims who support either one.
After bin Laden's taped comments were aired, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said bin Laden did not speak for the world's Arabs and Muslims when he called for a holy war against the United States.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher also dismissed bin Laden's remarks, saying, "There is a war between bin Laden and the whole world."
White House spokeswoman Anne Womack added, "This is more propaganda that shows how isolated he is from the world."
Opposition Leader Rescued
In a further military operation, the U.S. military and CIA helped to rescue a leading opposition figure from southern Afghanistan on Sunday, just as the Taliban was moving in to capture and kill him, sources tell ABCNEWS.
Hamid Karzai, a minister in the pre-Taliban government, was reportedly having success in urging tribal leaders in southern Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. But several of those he had met with were reportedly caught and hanged.
Officials say Karzai was flown to safety in Pakistan by a U.S. helicopter. It was just 10 days ago that another opposition leader in the south, Abdul Haq, on a similar mission, was captured and killed by the Taliban, after the U.S. failed to get to him in time.
U.N.: No Aid Without Taliban Assurances
In other developments:
The Taliban today urged the United Nations to bring aid into the war-ravaged country before winter sets in, but a U.N. spokeswoman said that the regime itself is one of the main obstacles to getting help to the Afghan people. U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker told Reuters that until the Taliban guarantees the safety of U.N. personnel, no international aid workers will be sent in to Afghanistan.
A senior Taliban official said an American who was arrested two weeks ago in southern Afghanistan died in custody of natural causes. The official identified the man as John Bolton of California, and said he entered Afghanistan as a relief worker, but was arrested on charges of spying for the United States. State Department officials had no comment on the report.
The latest numbers of victims from the attacks on the World Trade Center, according to New York City officials are: 3,897 are missing and 499 identified dead.