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Rodgers: Troops hit the ground

CNN Senior International Correspondent Walt Rodgers reports from Pakistan on the U.S. acknowledgement that ground troops have entered Afghanistan.
CNN Senior International Correspondent Walt Rodgers reports from Pakistan on the U.S. acknowledgement that ground troops have entered Afghanistan.  

Reporting from Islamabad, CNN Senior International Correspondent Walt Rodgers discusses with military analyst Rifaat Hussain the U.S. acknowledgement that ground troops have been inserted into Afghanistan.

RODGERS: The announcement that a handful of U.S. troops are on the ground in Southern Afghanistan means that they have entered an extraordinary and dangerous environment. Southern Afghanistan is an area where tribal loyalties shift regularly, but it suggests that the United States believes that perhaps it has co-opted at least one of the tribes, or perhaps several.

Also very important is the Pentagon announcement that it is Southern Afghanistan where those small numbers of special ops forces have been inserted. The largest city close to that area is Kandahar. That is a major Taliban political and military power center. It would suggest strongly that perhaps those troops are going in there to gather intelligence and to size up a larger military operation. But again, they have to see whether the ground is safe to expand any military operation at this point.

Joining me now is Rifaat Hussain , a Pakistani military analyst well-versed in military affairs in this part of the world. Mr. Hussain, when the Pentagon says they are inserting only ... a small number of troops, what are they telling us?

HUSSAIN: They are basically telling us that the special operations forces have gone in and they have created a niche in the southern part of Afghanistan, and most of the Taliban leadership -- particularly the high command ... hail from the southern part of Afghanistan.

So their going in essentially means they have some good intelligence that some members of the al Qaeda group -- I would not rule out the possibility of Osama bin Laden himself -- have got some hideouts there, and they will be launching, I think pretty soon, search-and-destroy operations.

This is not the kind of the ground troops commitment that ... people have been talking about. These are still special operations forces, and they obviously are working in close cooperation with the local commanders there.

RODGERS: So what are they doing?

HUSSAIN: Basically, I think it is intelligence (and) search-and-destroy operations. Also, in the eventuality that should there be a ... meltdown of the Taliban power, then in all liklihood, if they have to retreat from Kabul, their natural retreat would be to Kandahar. Once they (the Taliban) move backward (coalition troops) want to be ready to take them on.

RODGERS: If you were a hard-line Taliban commander, what would you be think of this news of U.S. forces on the ground?

HUSSAIN: It would mean that you would be paying attention to your home base of Kandahar, and try to take them on. I would expect that ... you would have some kind of an engagement between some elements of the Taliban forces and the special forces that the Americans have put in that part of the world.


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