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Special Forces Open Ground Campaign

In addition to Special Forces, a senior defense official said the Pentagon has a number of innovative actions planned for Afghanistan and other countries that harbor terrorists. "There are going to be somethings that will surprise you -- weapons that people don't know we have," he said.

These weapons, he said, would be akin to the armed drone -- a Predator reconnaissance aircraft newly equipped with Hellfire antitank missiles -- that the United States is using for the first time over Afghanistan.

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Other defense officials have said they expect a large and visible helicopter assault involving Special Forces aviation units aboard the USS Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Sea and in bases in Uzbekistan, just north of Afghanistan. British special forces are also expected to operate on the ground in Afghanistan, an informed source said.

Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, chief of the Central Command that oversees the Afghanistan campaign, is expected to travel to Saudi Arabia next week to review progress of the war, Pentagon officials said.

As the war moved through its 12th day, U.S. warplanes continued hitting targets, bombing around Kabul, the capital, and the cities of Kandahar and Jalalabad, witnesses said.

Northern Alliance commanders, speaking from Mahmoud-e Raqi in northern Afghanistan, 30 miles north of Kabul, said they are prepared to advance on the capital but would wait until an agreement is reached on a coalition government to replace the Taliban.

More than 200 miles to the north, fighting continued around Mazar-e Sharif, where Taliban forces are attempting to halt a drive by Northern Alliance fighters to capture the important crossroad city.

"It's back and forth, and if there were any gains, it would be on the side of the Taliban," one defense official said at the Pentagon.

Taliban officials, speaking in Kabul and Dubai, claimed that from 400 to 900 civilians had been killed in the airstrikes but said that their leaders and the leaders of al Qaeda, including bin Laden, were safe.

Despite those assertions, a group based in London, the Islamic Observation Center, reported that an al Qaeda member with ties to the group's senior leaders, known as Abu Baseer al-Masri, had been killed, apparently as the result of an airstrike.

In Cairo, Reuters obtained a statement by Mohammed Atef, a former Egyptian policeman described by terrorism experts as al Qaeda's military commander, saying that U.S. forces would be driven from Afghanistan as they were from Somalia in 1993. "The calculations of the crusade coalition were very mistaken when it thought it could wage a war on Afghanistan, achieving victory swiftly," Atef said.

At the Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld and Myers denied Taliban claims that hundreds of civilians have died and said that the U.S. airstrikes have been precise, except for a bomb that went off course and killed four civilians in a house in Kabul.

"When television says we're bombing Kabul, we're not bombing Kabul," Rumsfeld said. "We may take out a single location in Kabul, but most of the effort is on the outskirts of Kabul in unpopulated areas and military targets."

Myers disputed Taliban claims that 18 people were killed when a bomb struck a bus in Kandahar. U.S. military analysts, he said, "have looked at that very hard in the area that they said the bus was in. They've looked at the targets we struck in that area, and we can find no evidence that the bombs were anywhere other than where they were supposed to go, and no evidence of [any bomb hitting a bus] at this point."

Describing targets attacked on Wednesday, Myers said they included terrorist camps, al Qaeda forces, Taliban military facilities and troop deployments. While Northern Alliance commanders have complained that U.S. aircraft have not engaged dug-in Taliban troops defending Kabul, Myers said that U.S. fighter jets have attacked those forces.

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