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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Special Forces Enter Afghanistan

ReutersMembers of the British 23 Pioneer Regiment carrying out foot patrols near Camp South in Oman during joint exercises Thursday.
WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush said the United States was "in hot pursuit" of those behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and officials said U.S. special forces were operating inside Afghanistan.

"Make no mistake about it, we're in hot pursuit of terrorists," Bush told reporters Friday. He did little to flesh out his remark but added that he understood it was "very hard to fight a guerrilla war with conventional forces."

At another point, he added, "There may or may not be a conventional component" to the war on terrorism.

The Pentagon has begun a redeployment of ships, planes and personnel around the globe to prepare for a military strike, but officials have said little to suggest any type of attack is imminent.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the work of U.S. and British forces inside Afghanistan was a prelude to potential military action. The troops have been sent in the past few days, the official said, as the United States charts a course to find Osama bin Laden and the network of terrorist camps he is believed to run.

A Gulf television station said Saturday that Afghan forces had seized members of U.S. special forces in Afghanistan, but the ruling Taliban swiftly denied the report and the U.S. cast doubt on it.

Quoting a source in the al-Qaida network, Qatar's al-Jazeera television said the five Americans -- two of whom it described as Afghans with U.S. citizenship -- were U.S. special forces scouting near the Iranian border with weapons and maps of al-Qaida sites.

One defense official said that U.S. reconnaissance forces have set up operations in neighboring Uzbekistan. The United States and Pakistan have established a joint military intelligence group.

Bush made it clear again that he did not intend to occupy Afghanistan. "I am fully aware of the difficulties the Russians had in Afghanistan," he said. "Our intelligence people and our State Department people are also fully aware."

The deliberately vague reference to what groups the White House supports to replace the Taliban leaves open the question of whether Bush intends to provide aid to the Northern Alliance or seek to restore the 86-year-old exiled Afghan king, Muhammad Zahir Shah.

He may choose both options. There is concern in the White House that too heavy a tilt toward the Northern Alliance would anger Pakistan, a critical but unstable U.S. ally that is hostile to the Northern Alliance.

While some in the administration argue that the king, who has lived in Italy for more than a quarter century, would serve as a unifying force among Afghanistan's fractious tribes, he might also be regarded as a hapless puppet.

Bush also announced the release of $25 million in emergency food and medical aid for the Afghan refugees flowing into Pakistan. That aid, officials said, is intended to help alleviate the suffering, and to signal to Pakistan that the United States will not leave it to handle alone the flood of refugees.

"This is the beginning of the aid, not the end," one official said. The United States has been the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, roughly $170 million this year. But the Taliban has ended air flights into and out of the country, crippling aid organizations, and harassed aid workers, many of whom have fled the country.

ABC News reported Friday that the United States may drop food and leaflets as well as bombs on Afghanistan.

The network said on its "World News Tonight" broadcast that special forces already said to be on the ground in the landlocked central Asian nation were laying the groundwork for a campaign that would begin with the bombing of a number of strategic military installations of the Taliban, especially those related to air defense.

But because of the famine that has imperiled the lives of several million Afghans, U.S. planes will also drop food supplies, the report said. In addition there will be drops of leaflets designed to explain to the civilian population what is happening. Radio broadcasts from nearby outposts will also be used to try to inform the population, it added.

NBC News meanwhile reported in its evening broadcast that any military action against Afghanistan would likely start with selective bombing of military targets to keep the Taliban government off-balance, followed by a campaign by ground forces to hunt down bin Laden.

The Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has acknowledged that Bush last week ordered its forces to deploy, but military and administration officials repeatedly refused to discuss any aspect of their operations.

The army has five major special forces units, including the 5th Special Forces Group based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which has responsibility for the Persian Gulf region and has frequently trained there in recent years, including in Pakistan.

The United States has now amassed a military force of 28,000 sailors, airmen and troops, more than 300 warplanes and two dozen warships spread for thousands of kilometers across a military theater with Iraq and Afghanistan at its heart.

The buildup continues even while Pentagon officials talk of lightning raids and precise strikes against targets in Afghanistan, because no matter how brief and limited, such operations require a vast and expensive network of bases, command posts, flight decks, refueling outposts and defensive weapons, with all the accompanying logistics.

Britain also has a significant force in the region, including more than 20,000 troops, an aircraft carrier, several other warships and dozens of aircraft, all taking part in a previously scheduled training exercise with Omani forces.

The force, Britain's largest single military deployment since the Falklands war in 1982, could easily switch from its training to take part in an American-led operation, officials in Washington said.

n?The State Department issued a "worldwide caution" to traveling Americans, stemming from new threats from foreign groups.

n?On the investigation front, law enforcers estimated that planning and executing the highly coordinated attacks cost at least $500,000. A law enforcement source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said federal agents had tracked the hijackers' bank accounts, communications and travel tickets as they followed a trail that could lead to a small group of chief plotters in Europe and the Middle East.

(AP, NYT, Reuters)