U.S. planning to send troops to Mideast, Central Asia

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U.S. planning to send troops to Mideast, Central Asia


Thomas E. Ricks Washington Post


- When the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan winds down at the end of this week, the Pentagon plans to begin the next phase of the war on terrorism by sending additional ground troops to the Mideast and Central Asia, defense officials said yesterday.

The deployment is not a prelude to a full-scale conventional ground attack on Afghanistan, they said, but the next step in an unconventional war.

"They [the troops] will start to go, but it's not because we have a clear and defined plan," a senior defense official said. "We want to position ourself in such a fashion that we have a wide range of options."

The additional troops are a fraction of the number sent to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. They could do everything from bolstering the border defenses of Uzbekistan to flying into Afghanistan to temporarily holding an airfield or cordoning off an area that is being searched, officials indicated.

Asked whether the Pentagon is considering large-scale ground attacks inside Afghanistan, one official said, "Nothing has been ruled out."

The movement of ground troops also will reinforce the message that the U.S. government is determined to carry out a long-term, wide-ranging campaign, the senior defense official said. Some Arab allies had worried about the Americans' tenacity, and a major theme of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's tour of the Mideast and Central Asia last week was that the United States is in it for the long haul.

The aerial attacks began Sunday and are expected to last three to five days. Their objective is to punish the Taliban government by undercutting its power, and destroying the terrorist network inside Afghanistan.

But Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials have made it clear they understand the limits of air power in a country that has few "high-value targets."

The buildup will begin with the movement of 1,000 soldiers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division to join the 1,000 already in Central Asia. Additional troops will come from the United States, but some almost certainly will be pulled out of the U.S. peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, those officials added.

Other NATO countries are expected to send replacement troops to keep the Balkans operations fully staffed.

"In the next week, you'll see people start moving," one official said. Rumsfeld signed the order for the troop movement on Friday night, another official said, adding, "They will probably deploy, but it isn't clear what they'll do." The durability of the American commitment is a special concern for the government of Uzbekistan, which has made itself vulnerable by agreeing to host several thousand U.S. troops. The Taliban said recently it had moved troops to the Uzbek border and was prepared to attack if Uzbekistan participated in the U.S.-led strikes.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 09, 2001

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