WASHINGTON The nation”s top military commander and the general who is directing the U.S. assault in Afghanistan said yesterday that the military campaign is on schedule and making “great progress” toward the goal of destroying the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban regime that harbors it.
Appearing on separate television interview programs, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command, gave positive assessments of a war effort that some critics have characterized in recent days as bogged down.
But both generals also warned that the United States and its anti-Taliban rebel allies face a long and difficult task. Neither suggested that the United States is close to locating Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile and suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
Myers and Franks denied a report in the New Yorker magazine that a raid last month on a Taliban stronghold by members of the top-secret Delta Force encountered stiff resistance and that 12 U.S. soldiers were injured. They said there were some injuries during the operation, but that none resulted from enemy fire.
Interviewed on NBC”s “Meet the Press,” Myers said that over the weekend the United States inserted additional Special Forces teams into Afghanistan to help coordinate U.S. air attacks with ground operations by the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban forces. As he spoke, the Pentagon announced that U.S. bombing over the weekend focused on targets close to four key cities near the Taliban front lines with Northern Alliance rebels: Bagram, Taloqan, Konduz and Mazar-e Sharif.
Declaring that “we”re going to fight right through the winter,” Myers suggested that the harsh Afghan winter could work to the advantage of the United States and its allies.
“We are resupplying the opposition with ammunition, with food, with blankets, we hope in the not-too-distant future with cold weather gear,” he said. “The fighting forces on the side of the opposition, on our side, will be much better prepared for winter than the Taliban.”
But while describing the war effort as “going exactly according to our plan,” Myers said a Pentagon spokesman misspoke two weeks ago when he said the Taliban”s combat power had been “eviscerated” by U.S. air strikes.
“I think we do have a substantial fight ahead of us,” he said. “In some ways they have been eviscerated, but not in all ways. So we are pretty much where I think I said we are. We have the initiative, the Taliban do not.”
Myers described bin Laden as “somebody that is quite sick mentally.” He added that the war against terrorism that President Bush declared following the Sept. 11 attacks “is the most important assignment we”ve had in the military since World War II.”
Franks, whose Central Command is in charge of the Afghanistan operation, said on ABC”s “This Week” that “great progress” was being made in the war effort “because we”re doing our work on our timeline. We”re doing our work on the basis of our initiative.”
Franks said the U.S. objective in Afghanistan was not the occupation of key strategic points or other territory but the application of constant pressure on the Taliban and the al-Qaida network. He said the United States was coordinating its attacks with the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban rebels.
Franks said he would not rule out the introduction of large numbers of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan, although he did not suggest such a step is imminent. “I think at this point we”d be foolish to take anything off the table,” he said.