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U.S., Britain dispute Afghan campaign critics


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. jets struck Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar and Taliban positions facing the opposition Northern Alliance on Monday as officials faced criticism that they have underestimated the Taliban.

"The task is to keep at it until Americans can go through their lives without fear," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday. "It is a marathon, not a sprint. It will be years, not weeks or months."

Strikes resumed in Kandahar after a brief respite about 5:20 a.m. local time, CNN Correspondent Kamal Hyder said. Some explosions also were heard to the west of Kandahar, with military installations being the suspected targets.

Most U.S. strikes over the weekend focused on the ruling Taliban's military forces in northern and northeast Afghanistan, around the cities of Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Rumsfeld said some "middle to upper-high" Taliban and al Qaeda leaders have been killed in the U.S. raids, but "To our knowledge, none of the very top six, eight, 10 people have been included in that number."

Myers said pundits questioning the U.S. campaign can't use previous U.S. conflicts in the Balkans or the Persian Gulf as a model. In Afghanistan, Myers said, U.S. forces "are in the driver's seat."

Meanwhile, USA Today reported Monday that U.S. forces soon may establish a forward base in Afghanistan that would support up to 300 commandos. The report, which cited a senior defense official, said up to 600 soldiers could provide food, security, medical care and evacuation support at such a base.

Setting up a base there could help the Northern Alliance's campaign to take Mazar-e Sharif, but Rumsfeld would not discuss the report.

"We're thinking about things. It would be unwise and certainly unhelpful to prejudge what we might do prospectively," he said.

However, the Taliban said Monday that the only significant achievement by the U.S.-led military campaign has been "genocide of Afghan civilians" in Afghanistan's cities.

Taliban officials said the Americans want to install a puppet regime and said U.S. efforts will face a fiasco. Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said Monday the Americans are ignoring the past experiences of the British and the Soviets, who fought unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan.

In London, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said Monday that three weeks of airstrikes have cleared the way for "more complex military operations." He did not elaborate.

Hoon said the strikes have put "significant pressure" on the Taliban to give up al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. officials blame in the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"They are neither able to guarantee his safety nor the safety of senior lieutenants, nor the future of their regime, which has played an active role in aiding and abetting terrorism," he said.

But Roy Allison, an analyst with the Royal Institute of International Affairs, said the Taliban's support within Afghanistan "seems still intact."

"If major towns don't fall into the hands of the Northern Alliance, such as Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, in the next few weeks, it is unlikely during the winter period," Allison said. "Therefore, we'll see Taliban control over them until spring, which would probably reinforce their sense of self-confidence and mean the focus of the efforts will have to be on small-scale search-and-snatch raids."


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