Taliban Commander: Americans Soft

A senior Taliban commander was quoted Saturday as saying American soldiers are too soft for the rigors of ground combat in Afghanistan and that the U.S.-led air campaign has inflicted little damage on the country's defenses.

In an interview published by the Pakistani newspaper The News, Mullah Jalaluddin Haqqani said about 25 Taliban soldiers have been "martyred" in the U.S.-led air campaign, which began Oct. 7 to force the Afghans to hand over terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden.

"We are eagerly awaiting the American troops to land on our soil, where we will deal with them in our own way," Haqqani was quoted as saying. "I tell you the Soviets were a brave enemy and their soldiers could withstand tough conditions. The Americans are creatures of comfort. They will not be able to sustain the harsh conditions that await them."

Haqqani, a veteran of the 1979-1989 war against the Soviet Union, is the commander of the Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. The News said it spoke to him in an undisclosed location in Pakistan.

Members of Haqqani's family live in Pakistan, but the newspaper did not say why he was here. The Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman, Riaz Mohammed Khan, said Haqqani was here as part of consultations on prospects for a broad-based, post-Taliban government in Afghanistan and had met with senior Pakistani officials.

In the interview, however, Haqqani gave no indication he and other Taliban figures were ready to step down despite the U.S. onslaught.

"We have so far held on to our defenses," Haqqani said. "The military strikes have failed miserably to inflict any serious or crippling damage to our defense."

Haqqani said not a single key figure of the Taliban or bin Laden's al-Qaida leadership had been killed; "however, about 25 Taliban soldiers have been martyred."

The interview was published on the same day that Pentagon officials said about 100 U.S. Army Rangers and other special troops raided a Taliban camp in southern Afghanistan.

The Pentagon did not mention any hostile contact with Taliban forces but said an American helicopter on standby for search-and-rescue crashed in Pakistan, killing two U.S. troops.