WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hundreds more U.S. special forces troops are ready to infiltrate Afghanistan and put more pressure on the Taliban militia that shelters Osama bin Laden, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said.
Problems including bad weather and heavy fire at a landing area have prevented some of the U.S. teams from entering Afghanistan recently, Rumsfeld said Thursday.
"We have a number of teams cocked and ready to go," he told a Pentagon news conference on the 26th day of U.S. bombing. "It's just a matter of having the right kind of equipment to get them there in the landing zones ... where it's possible to get in and get out, and we expect that to happen."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is considering deploying the JSTARS surveillance aircraft, which is used to track forces on the ground over hundreds of miles, senior Pentagon officials said Friday. JSTARS stands for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, asked about a report in the Washington Post that the aircraft had been ordered to be deployed, said officials were looking at "a variety" of things in the bombing effort. "That decision is still open," she said when asked whether such an order had been issued.
The aircraft was first used in the Persian Gulf War. Two senior military officers, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said the aircraft was being looked at because of its capability to pinpoint so-called "emerging targets," such as the troops, tanks, or any vehicles on the ground from opposition units.
Clarke also said that on Thursday some 79 sorties had been flown, targeting Taliban caves, command-and-control units, and ground forces.
Rumsfeld, speaking on Thursday, offered no specific numbers for his goal of inserting special forces. But he said he hoped to triple or quadruple the current number in Afghanistan, which totals between 100 and 200. Rumsfeld said the extra troops will help the United States improve its bombing campaign by pinpointing targets and coordinating with forces opposing the Taliban.
He said the plan includes placing U.S. troops with a wider ring of rebel forces, in both northern and southern Afghanistan. The United States also is supplying rebels with ammunition and arms "as fast as we can" once liaison forces make sure the supplies will be used and not sold, he said.
Rumsfeld revealed that one recent attempt to land U.S. special operations troops was called off after the helicopter-borne troops encountered ground fire, presumably from the Taliban militia that controls most of Afghanistan.
Responding to reporters' questions about a U.S. attack Oct. 22 of an Afghan village called Chukar, about 25 miles north of Kandahar, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the village was a Taliban encampment populated by al-Qaida "collaborators" and therefore deemed a legitimate military target. It was attacked at night by an Air Force AC-130 gunship.
Rumsfeld plans to leave Friday for Russia and several countries near Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld on Tuesday had confirmed for the first time that a small number of U.S. special operations forces were inside Afghanistan to help designate targets for U.S. warplanes and to act as liaison with the northern alliance of opposition forces who seek to oust the Taliban.
Other officials have said the Pentagon is considering setting up a base inside Afghanistan from which such forces could operate.
The Army's special operations soldiers include Special Forces, often called Green Berets, who are trained in unconventional warfare, clandestine reconnaissance and in training and advising rebel forces. Other special operations troops, such as Army Rangers, specialize in airborne assaults behind enemy lines such as the nighttime attack Oct. 20 on a Taliban-controlled airfield.
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