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U.S. eyes pre-emptive strikes on Afghan defenses

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- A senior defense official traveling with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated Thursday that the United States is considering pre-emptive strikes against air defense sites in Afghanistan to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian aid.

Rumsfeld, in an interview with reporters traveling with him in Cairo, refused to say if the option was under consideration.

The defense secretary confirmed the Pentagon is drawing up plans for air drops of food and medicine for the Afghan people but would not say how the planes would be protected from the threat of surface-to-air missiles known to be in the possession of the ruling Taliban.

"The food drops will be done only in the event that it's very clear that SAM site and the limited number of surface-to-air missiles, and the rather larger number of Stinger missiles would not pose a problem," Rumsfeld said.

President Bush presented the broad outline Thursday morning of a proposed $320 million humanitarian aid package for the people of Afghanistan, as the administration continued trying to broaden the schism between that nation's ruling Taliban and its general population.

Speaking at the State Department, Bush said the package was intended to demonstrate to the Afghan people, ravaged by more than two decades of bloody warfare, that the United States and the international coalition it has assembled have set their sights on the Taliban and the al Qaeda network of terrorist groups.

The United States, Bush said, would stand with the people of Afghanistan in the face of the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Pentagon sources say the U.S. government -- as a precursor to possible military action -- is considering air-dropping transistor radios into Afghanistan to allow Afghan citizens to hear broadcasts produced by the U.S. State Department or military psychological operations units.

The sources say radio broadcasts would be designed to undermine support for suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and members of his al Qaeda organization and would encourage opposition to the ruling Taliban.

The radio broadcasts would also emphasize that "the people of Afghanistan are not the enemy" of the United States and would not be "targeted" in a U.S. military action, say these Pentagon sources.

The U.S. military dropped transistor radios with small parachutes into Haiti before a planned military action there in 1993 and used the radios to communicate directly with the population of Haiti.

The airdrop operation was considered a success by military planners and an all-out military invasion was avoided, perhaps in part because of the ability to address the civilian population directly.

-- CNN National Security Producer Chris Plante contributed to this story.


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