WASHINGTON – Sources at the State Department are urging the White House to build a stronger coalition for a replacement government in Afghanistan before any ground forces or infantry troops move in behind special forces units already on the ground there, Fox News has learned.
The State Department urged the White House last week to wait on the bombing until a more solid coalition was in place, U.S. officials tell Fox News, but the White House was eager to take action. Bombing of selected targets in Afghanistan started Sunday evening.
U.S. officials are trying to help form a compatible coalition to succeed the Taliban regime currently governing Afghanistan that would include the Northern Alliance, Afghanistan's 86-year-old ex-king, who currently resides in Rome, and members from tribes in the south of Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that the Taliban regime would not last because it has cut off its opportunities to join the rest of the world and has failed its people.
"It's not just the bombing campaign that's making a mess of that country, but the Taliban has made a mess of that country and that's why we have to pay to feed those people," he said. The United States began dropping food and medicine packages into Afghanistan this week and is supplying convoys to the border.
The ability to form a coalition has run into hurdles, though, particularly because Pakistan does not want any Northern Alliance leaders involved in the next government, sources said.
An F-18 dropped a precision-guided bomb on the Taliban leader's residence Sunday, and special forces on the ground went in ahead of time to paint a laser target on the place to ensure the plane "wouldn't take out the neighborhood, just the residence."
In the meantime, Fox News' team on the ground in Quetta, Pakistan, witnessed extensive helicopter activity in the air during the night Wednesday. The team said helicopters were headed toward the Pakistani air base near Quetta. That airbase was under consideration for search and rescue missions, but the Defense Ministry in Islamabad refused to comment on the report of activity there.
Airstrikes continued in the Afghan cities of Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad Wednesday evening. Powell said strikes would continue indefinitely, and a senior Pentagon official confirmed that Wednesday would be the last night of pre-planned bombing. From now on, targets will be hit as they present themselves, day or night.