WASHINGTON (AP) The U.S. military campaign could involve more American forces and continue for a long time even though the Taliban are out of power and al-Qaida fighters are surrounded near one of their mountain hide-outs, U.S. officials said yesterday.

“We may send in some” more troops to Afghanistan, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said.

“The most important thing for the American people to understand is our objectives remain very largely to be done in the future,” he said.

“Enemies that are half-defeated can be very dangerous and they can take a long time to clear out.”

U.S. forces would not occupy Afghanistan, but would hunt down top Taliban and al-Qaida leaders, continue humanitarian aid efforts and help support a post-Taliban government, the officials said. “We”re not eager to have the United States come in and become an occupying power in Afghanistan. That”s not our purpose,” Vice President Dick Cheney said.

“We want to see to it that what is left behind gives the Afghan people the opportunity to develop a strong representative government, a government that can guarantee that, in the future, no terrorist will once again find sanctuary or safe harbor in Afghanistan,” he said on NBC”s “Meet the Press.”

That goal, he said, could take “years of involvement” and would rely on aid agencies and perhaps U.N. peacekeepers over the short term.

U.S. troops are unlikely to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for food and other humanitarian aid distribution, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This global war on terrorism is going to require military forces for some time to come, perhaps, and one thing we don”t want to do is leave a large legacy force in Afghanistan,” Myers said.

Military officials believe Osama bin Laden probably is in the Tora Bora area, a complex of caves and tunnels in mountainous eastern Afghanistan.

U.S. special forces troops with the anti-Taliban forces there “are trying to get their eyes onto some of these targets” to help with airstrikes and aid the opposition, Myers said.

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