WASHINGTON (NNS) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Nov. 26 that Marine Corps forces are in southern Afghanistan to set up a forward operating base.
"They are not an occupying force," Rumsfeld told Pentagon reporters. "Their purpose is to establish a forward base of operations to help pressure the Taliban forces in Afghanistan (and) to prevent Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists from moving freely about the country."
Roughly 500 Marines moved into an airstrip southwest of Kandahar over the weekend, Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said earlier in the day. That number should rise to more than 1,000 within the next couple days, she said. The Marines are from the USS Peleliu (LHA 5) and USS Bataan (LHD 5). Other Marines will arrive at the airfield by C-130.
The secretary wouldn't say specifically what the operating base would be used for. "We don't discuss future plans or developments," Rumsfeld said. He said the area has strategic importance because it is near major crossroads and east-west routes into Iran and Pakistan.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said the operation to position the Marines "has gone well so far." He noted that U.S. efforts in the country "remain focused on providing support to opposition groups throughout Afghanistan and on establishing airfield hubs for humanitarian assistance efforts."
Myers said Northern Alliance troops entered the city of Kunduz as Taliban groups surrendered. He said isolated pockets of foreign fighters continue to be active in the area. Rumsfeld added he not surprised the foreign fighters are holding out. "The al Qaeda and the non-Afghan troops --have been among the toughest of the fighters and the most determined and the least likely to surrender," he said. "(They) would have the least ability to melt into the countryside."
The chairman said 110 U.S. aircraft struck in nine planned target areas concentrated on al Qaeda and Taliban cave and tunnel complexes, as well as Taliban military forces primarily in and around Jalalabad and Kandahar.
U.S. forces also dropped leaflets in the areas surrounding Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul, Kandahar and Herat and continued Commando Solo broadcasts in these areas, Myers said.
Two C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes dropped 40 containers holding more than 19,000 humanitarian ration packs and 40 containers of wheat and blankets. Myers said these containers were dropped near Kunduz and Herat using "parachute delivery systems."
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