WASHINGTON -- American soldiers are poised for another phase in the strikes against Taliban and terrorist targets in Afghanistan: action on the ground, rather than just from the air.
Although U.S. officials won't talk publicly about specifics, special forces are sure to take a prominent role. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested Friday that this week's airstrikes were a prelude to ground action.
"Many of the conventional efforts that you see today are stage-setters for follow-on operations," Myers told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. "Some of those efforts may be visible, but many will not."
After a pause Friday for the Muslim day of worship, the U.S. strikes continued Saturday morning as several earthshaking explosions hit the north side of Kabul.
Military officials have said the airstrikes are becoming increasingly focused on mobile targets, such as convoys of troops for the Taliban, the militia that is sheltering suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.
In other developments:
--President Bush, in his weekly radio address Saturday, said the United States has met all its goals for the first phase of the anti-terrorism campaign. "American forces dominate the skies over Afghanistan and we will use that dominance to make sure terrorists can no longer freely use Afghanistan as a base of operations," the president said.
--A law enforcement official said prosecutors are investigating whether some of the people in custody in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks were planning additional attacks. In Arizona, Faisal Michael al Salmi was indicted on charges he lied to the FBI when he said he did not know Hani Hanjour, suspected of piloting the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
--The Treasury Department added 39 groups and individuals to its list of terrorist-related owners of financial assets who should have their accounts frozen.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the U.S.-led bombing has damaged or destroyed nearly all the al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan, including some of the camps' defenses. Other officials have said the camps were largely empty when struck this week.
"We have worked over a number, if not all, of their terrorist training camps," Rumsfeld told reporters Friday. "Those camps have been locations where terrorists that are today's threat across the globe have been trained. Threats clearly still exist."
Myers said U.S. warplanes would remain in position to strike at "emerging targets" -- newly discovered military targets or unforeseen movements of Taliban or al-Qaida forces or leaders.
Navy F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets flying from an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea are searching for those targets. Long-range bombers flying from the United States and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia took a break from the action Friday but were likely to return to the skies soon, officials said.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. defense official said al-Qaida is believed to possess chlorine, phosgene and other poison gases that it could, with some difficulty, use as weapons. It also may have biological toxins, said the official, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity. He did not provide any detail.
Such poison gases are relatively crude chemical weapons and it is unlikely that al-Qaida has the means to kill large numbers of people with them, the official said.
He also said it is likely that some Taliban commanders have defected to the northern alliance of opposition groups now fighting the radical Islamic militia, which controls most of Afghanistan. The official said the scale of the defections was unclear. Rumsfeld refused to discuss defections.
Myers said "bunker-busting" bombs have been used against buried targets, including caves were al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding. Rumsfeld has indicated that some underground targets include caves where munitions may be stored.
He said Thursday that photos of strikes against underground facilities earlier in the week showed enormous secondary explosions that in some cases went on for several hours.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.