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Administration says action may pause after airstrikes

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senior U.S. officials are playing down the prospect of any major deployment of ground forces into Afghanistan after the initial air assaults, which were launched this past weekend, are scaled back.

The next phase of the campaign against the Taliban and the al Qaeda terror network, an official said, may be a pause in operations.

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"The next phase is going to be different than many people seem to expect," the senior administration official said Tuesday just before President Bush met with his National Security Council for an update on ongoing military and diplomatic efforts.

"We are not clearing the way for an occupation as such by the U.S. military. There will be a first wave, then an assessment and very possibly a pause before further action is taken," the official said.

A second senior official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "Ground forces likely have several important roles to play, but it will almost certainly be a more targeted effort -- specific projects or installations or security measures. This is not a Gulf War where you use air power to soften things up for a large-scale ground force."

Arafat praised

As the United States continued to hit Afghan targets Tuesday, administration officials kept a keen eye on the Arab world, and on the wider Muslim sphere, as they assessed the strength of anti-American protests worldwide.

White House officials said Tuesday the protests in Muslim nations were not as widespread as some had anticipated, and they praised a man whom they often have criticized: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

One administration official said there "are no real high-level concern spots out there" as the effort to keep the international coalition intact continues. "We're in good shape."

Asked about anti-American protests in part of the Arab world and Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim state, this official said, "One of the unspoken rules for some in the coalition is to keep that to a minimum, and I think you are seeing that."

Another official concurred, saying, "The unrest is not as much as many anticipated."

Both officials singled out Arafat for praise, saying he had, in the words of one, "made the right but difficult choice to step up" and use Palestinian police to break up protests by supporters of Osama bin Laden. "That is a good sign, evidence he gets it -- that he has a responsible role to play here," one of the senior officials said.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer read a number of supportive statements Tuesday that he said Arab leaders had issued.

Quoting media accounts, Fleischer said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had said his nation supported "all actions taken by the United States."

Fleischer also read a media account that he said quoted Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal as saying there was "clear evidence connecting" bin Laden to the September 11 attacks on the United States, and that it was critical to pursue "with vigor and tenacity" those responsible for terrorism.

Homeland security team grows

At the White House on Tuesday, the administration rounded out its homeland security team.

Dick Clark was promoted from his National Security Council position to a new post in charge of combating cyberterrorism, and retired Gen. Wayne Downing was named deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism.

The appointments were announced by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the new Office of Homeland Security director, Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor.

Meanwhile, the White House referred questions about the reported deaths of four Afghan aid workers for the United Nations to the Defense Department. Fleischer said the Pentagon was looking into the reports that the four, involved in mine-clearing operations, were killed by a missile strike as they slept.

Fleischer also declined to discuss in detail the reasons the president, as first reported by CNN on Monday, sent a memo to several Cabinet secretaries and department heads ordering them to restrict the sharing of classified and sensitive information to only eight members of Congress: the four top leaders and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

"The memo speaks for itself," Fleischer said.

He also said Vice President Dick Cheney remained at a secure, undisclosed location because of ongoing security concerns.



 
 
 
 



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