Pentagon faces questions about results of Afghan campaign
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan approaches the three-week mark, the Bush administration is facing more questions about how soon it will show results.
The administration continues to caution against the expectation of a quick victory in the war against the al Qaeda terrorist network and their Taliban backers in Afghanistan. On Friday, President Bush reiterated the theme of patience.
"The American people are going to have to be patient, just like we are. They're going to have to be determined, just like our military is," the president said in a speech to business leaders. "And with that patience and with that determination, we will eventually smoke them out of their holes and get them and bring them to justice."
The Pentagon said strikes made this week included "terrorist and Taliban command-and-control elements in caves and camp complexes." But the Pentagon also has acknowledged the Taliban are hunkering down and beginning to move troops and equipment into residential areas in hopes the U.S. military won't bomb them due the possibility of civilian deaths.
And with the harsh Afghan winter fast approaching, success will require ground assaults more daring than last week's commando raid by U.S. special forces into southern Afghanistan.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a CNN military analyst, said the war is entering a "frustrating phase" in terms of military operations.
"Everybody's wondering why the Taliban don't collapse and why the front lines don't move in Mazar-e Sharif and in Kabul," he said. "And the answer is, it's very, very hard and it takes time to whittle down these forces and change the balance of power."
The airstrikes over the past three weeks have essentially hit all the fixed targets identified by the military, Shepperd said. The military understands that trying to root out the Taliban troops will take longer, he said.
"But digging the soldiers out of the trenches, out of the mountains and out of the caves is going to be prolonged activity because it's very difficult," Shepperd said.
Taliban tougher than expected?
The Pentagon is fighting the perception that the Taliban are turning out to be a tougher-than-expected foe and that the bombing is not achieving the goal of toppling their regime.
Pentagon briefings also have painted different pictures of the effects of the U.S. airstrikes. Ten days ago, a senior Pentagon official told reporters that the airstrikes have "eviscerated" Taliban forces.
On Wednesday, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem told reporters that he was surprised how "doggedly" the Taliban were hanging onto power.
When asked about these conflicting views in a briefing Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that he and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, do not have time to conduct daily press briefings and said that other officials may use different language to characterize the operations.
"Sometimes they might use a word that I might not, or sometimes they might use a word that they won't again," Rumsfeld said, drawing laughter from the Pentagon press corps.
At the same briefing, Myers also stressed that Operation Enduring Freedom was proceeding according to the military's plan.
"Success is yet to be determined, but we think we're having some success," he said.
And when asked Friday if the United States was getting bogged down in Afghanistan, Stufflebeem used the opportunity to stress that the Afghan conflict is not a conventional war.
"I don't personally believe that we are being bogged down or are getting bogged down," he said. "This is a very complicated operation. This is not traditional force-on-force warfare."
Pressure from allies in region to end bombing
Pentagon officials also have repeatedly said the U.S. military operations will include overt and covert missions by U.S. Special Operations troops, like last week's raid by U.S. Army Rangers in southern Afghanistan.
That point was underscored Friday by Britain's announcement that 200 commandos from the elite Royal Marines, in Oman as part of an exercise, will move to a British aircraft carrier to join U.S. Special Forces already on ships off Pakistan.
The United States also is coming under pressure from regional allies to end the bombing campaign soon. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, repeated that call Saturday.
"I still maintain that it ought to be short because any prolonging of the operation is not in the interests of anybody, not even the United States," Musharraf said at a news conference. "One can only hope and wish that the military objectives are achieved, and it remains as short as possible."
Asked Friday about the push from U.S. allies to end the campaign soon, Stufflebeem said the United States does not want to do anything to harm its support, but he added that part of the war on terrorism is showing U.S. resolve and strength.
"We're in the right; the terrorists are in the wrong. And therefore, it's important for us to do the right thing and to exercise our right of defending ourselves," he said. "And I think that, as time goes on, however long that may be, those who recognize that will remain and support that."
The Pentagon also has faced criticism from the Northern Alliance, the coalition of Afghan forces that has been fighting against the Taliban since 1996. Northern Alliance foreign ministry sources said Friday that the group's leaders are frustrated, claiming the bombing has been ineffective in destroying Taliban defenses despite the targeting information they have provided.
Stufflebeem said the military will follow its own strategy in the bombing, which may or may not coalesce with the aims of the Northern Alliance.
"And again, where it crosses with wherever the Northern Alliance may have, that's a good thing," he said. "But we are not going to adapt our game plan to theirs necessarily, nor would we expect them to adapt to ours."
CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report, which was written by CNN.com writer Douglas S. Wood.
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