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U.S. confirms commando operations

Conflicting reports on capture of five American soldiers

Sept. 29 — There were conflicting reports Saturday about the seizure of U.S. soldiers within Afghanistan. Qatar’s al-Jazeera television said Afghan security forces near the border with Iran had arrested five members of American special forces. Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement, however, denied that any U.S. or British special forces had entered territory under its control. U.S. officials acknowledged Friday that there were U.S. military scouts in the region.

THE REPORT SAID A source in Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida group called a TV correspondent in Islamabad to make the claim. The source said three of the arrested were members of the U.S. special forces and had modern weapons and some maps of al-Qaida sites. The other two were naturalized U.S. citizens, originally from Afghanistan, who were trained by the U.S. military, according to the report.

“They had some modern weapons and some maps of al-Qaida sites,” the al-Qaida source was quoted as saying. “They were on a reconnaissance mission to know the territory of al-Qaida.” He said pictures of the men would be released soon. TALIBAN DENIES CLAIMS

The Taliban defense minister, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, blasted reports that American troops were on Afghan soil. “It is totally wrong, we deny this news that they have come to our areas.” Obaidullah did not rule out the possibility that some foreign forces could be in regions held by anti-Taliban forces north of Kabul and in the rugged areas of the northeast near the border with Tajikistan.

NBC News was trying to independently confirm the arrests and obtain additional details. No U.S. officials had yet provided comment on the report. Please check this story again soon for additional developments. U.S. ACKNOWLEDGES PRESENCE

On Friday, Bush administration sources speaking to NBC News acknowledged that scouts from U.S. special forces were scoping out the battlefield for a possible attack on Afghanistan, where bin Laden and other suspected terror leaders are thought to be in hiding.

U.S. officials from President Bush on down say that bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization played a role in the Sept. 11 terror attacks that killed thousands of people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders have provided safe haven for bin Laden since 1996, and they have refused U.S. demands and Pakistani requests to hand him over — leading to the U.S. preparations for military action.

No final decisions have been made, the Bush administration sources said, but the current battle plans include a sustained campaign by special forces and ground troops to hunt down bin Laden. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources told NBC that there may be selective bombing of military targets in Afghanistan to keep the country’s ruling Taliban militia off-balance and out of the fight. The preparations involve aircraft carrier movements and deployments of more than 100 additional planes in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean region surrounding Afghanistan. But administration officials told NBC that the military’s initial plan — calling for an immediate, massive bombing campaign against Afghanistan — was rejected by Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. They felt such a campaign would have little chance of taking out bin Laden, while running a significant risk of sparking an anti-American backlash in the Muslim world, the officials said.


September 28 — NBC’s

Jim Miklaszewski says a battle plan is taking shape at the Pentagon, and military experts say it may not be what Osama bin Laden has been expecting.

The officials said Rumsfeld was frustrated by the military’s inability to come up with unconventional, creative strategies to attack terrorists. During a Tuesday news briefing, Rumsfeld hinted at that frustration, saying that the anti-terrorism war was “by its very nature something that cannot be dealt with by some sort of a massive attack or invasion.” “It is a much more subtle, nuanced, difficult, shadowy set of problems,” he told reporters.

The revised plan, as described by NBC’s sources, would give special forces their biggest role since the Vietnam War. Rumsfeld is also pushing for an information-warfare campaign to cut off bin Laden’s access to communications and money, the sources said.

Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks, analysts and government officials have said the first military forces involved on the ground in Afghanistan would be special forces, focusing on covert operations. Analysts said such operations might proceed in cooperation with Afghan guerrilla groups such as the Northern Alliance, which has been fighting the Taliban for years.

On Friday, USA Today reported that helicopter-borne special forces were hunting for bin Laden. In response, unnamed sources told The Associated Press that U.S. and British commandos have been in Afghanistan for the past few days — but insisted that they were not actively searching for bin Laden.

Later in the day, Bush told reporters the United States was “in hot pursuit” of terrorists, but he refrained from discussing the pursuit in anything but general terms. During an Oval Office meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, the president took note of the lessons Russia learned during its decade-long struggle with Afghan rebels in the 1980s.

“It is very hard to fight a ... guerrilla war with conventional forces,” Bush said. “There may or may not be a conventional component to” military action against terrorists believed to be hiding in Afghanistan, he said. Senior defense officials told NBC News that a deployment order signed Wednesday would add more special forces, as well as other personnel specializing in intelligence and reconnaissance, to the anti-terror campaign.

Yet another deployment order is to be signed soon, the officials said. One source characterized the move as “fine-tuning,” filling in the gaps of previous deployments. BEEFING UP THE MILITARY

September 28

Looking beyond special operations, the Pentagon is beefing up its forces in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean region for what could be a massive military strike. It is also adding to the armed forces on duty within the United States. The armed services have called up more than 16,700 National Guard and reserve soldiers so far, a number that is expected to rise eventually to 35,000 or more.

The latest calls to active duty, announced Friday, involved 191 Marine reservists and 250 from the Navy. Most of Friday’s call-ups were made individually, based on particular skills, rather than on a unit -by-unit basis, the Pentagon said. These moves are in addition to National Guard call-ups ordered by the states’ governors to reinforce airport security.

Although many of the reservists so far have been activated to beef up internal security or help with the recovery effort in New York and Washington, others will provide support for the military buildup overseas.

Another aspect of the anti-terror campaign could involve reorganization within the armed forces. Military officials told NBC News on Friday that the Marine Corps was considering a consolidation of its counterterrorism and anti-terrorism capabilities into a single unit. The Marines have Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Teams, also known as FAST teams, that occasionally reinforce security at embassies and military installations abroad. They also have a special force trained to respond to chemical or biological attacks. DIPLOMATIC GROUNDWORK

U.S. diplomats, meanwhile, were hard at work in the region around Afghanistan, laying the foundation for wider military action. Saudi Arabia has signaled that it would allow U.S. troops and planes already stationed on its soil to take part in military action against bin Laden and his protectors in Afghanistan, The Washington Post reported. The Saudis had earlier expressed misgivings about the use of the American bases to direct military action in the anti-terror campaign.

In Islamabad, U.S. and Pakistani officials ended two days of talks in “complete unanimity” on military preparations for combating bin Laden’s network in Afghanistan, a Pakistani general told AP. Details of the agreement were not announced, but Gen. Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, said there was “no difference of opinion between Pakistan and America on the issue of combating terrorism.”

Pakistan, however, has resisted any U.S. or other effort to bolster the Northern Alliance, which is fighting Afghanistan’s Taliban government. Pakistani officials said both sides also agreed to minimize the use of ground forces in any strike in Afghanistan.

Two U.S. government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NBC News that the AP report was essentially correct. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski and Tammy Kupperman contributed to this report.

-- Swissrose (, September 29, 2001

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