ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan has
"re-energized" the troops' focus in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other
terror leaders, boosting efforts in the "unfinished business in that part of
"The sands in their hourglass is running out," Lt. Gen. David Barno, leader
of Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, said as he briefed Pentagon reporters
via teleconference from Kabul.
And as in Iraq, he continued, the "enemy" operates on a much smaller scale
than in the past, shifting from large-number forces to the use of small-scale
ambushes, suicide bombers, remotely detonated improvised explosive devices and
the targeting of local civilians and nonmilitary targets, such as aid
"We see some potential indications of transfer of tactics, techniques and
process between groups fighting in both countries," Barno said.
So U.S. forces are changing too, "adjusting military operations to mirror and
stay ahead" of the enemy, he said. There are roughly 11,000 U.S. forces in
Afghanistan, hunting Taliban and al-Qaida remnants and rebuilding the war-torn
Part of that shift centers on a pilot program in the Kandahar region called
Regional Development Zone, an expansion of the successful Provincial
Reconstruction Team concept, said Col. Richard Perry, commander of the Combined
Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force.
While there are many prongs to the RDZ program, one "significant change" is
in the troop operations and the idea of "area ownership," where battalion-,
company- and even platoon-sized units forsake the base camp idea and instead
"own" and continuously operate in their areas of responsibility. The shift lets
them forge better relations with local residents and gain better intelligence
on enemy forces, he said.
Larger than the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are heavily focused on
rebuilding infrastructure such as schools, health clinics and water facilities,
the RDZ program focuses on a larger land area, more integration of the Afghan
military and police forces, and more connections with outside agencies such as
USAID and World Bank.
The PRTs play an integral security role, and there eight full-operational
PRTs throughout Afghanistan. New ones are planned for this spring in Ghazni,
Qalat, Khowst and Asadabad.
Also, improved cooperation with Pakistan means they're using the "hammer and
anvil approach" to squash al-Qaida elements that might flee attacks from
Pakistan's military forces and hit U.S. forces awaiting them on the Afghan
side, Barno said.
While Barno said Tuesday he is intent on defeating the terrorist
organizations and their leaders, he downplayed comments he made recently when
he asserted bin Laden would be captured by year's end.
"Their day has ended and this year will decisively sound the death knell of
their movements in Afghanistan," Barno was quoted as telling journalists in
Kabul about bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
But Tuesday, Barno declined to reiterate any timetable or address repeated
questions about what he meant by those strong words and to include if U.S.
forces knew of bin Laden's specific whereabouts.
"I'll just say the entire force is re-energized with that mission, but won't
provide more specifics of the direction we'll be heading," he said.
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