WASHINGTON – The Afghanistan military effort is right on target, the U.S.'s top commander said Thursday.
"We like the progress we have had up to this point," said Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command. "It is only those who believe this should be done in two weeks' time ... who are disappointed in this."
In his first appearance at a Pentagon news briefing, the Army general responded forcefully to criticism that one month of bombing the Taliban has been "too timid."
"Absolutely not," Franks barked.
Without offering specific numbers, Franks said he believes that Taliban military forces have been torn "asunder," having to struggle to communicate and plan. But he offered no other assessment of their combat power.
Franks also said the Al Qaeda terrorist network, not its leader Usama bin Laden, is the focus of the military campaign.
"We have not said Usama bin Laden is a target of this effort," he said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that while the U.S. certainly wouldn't mind if bin Laden were captured or killed, the larger picture demands that the network be dismantled.
"We'll find him," Rumsfeld said. "On the other hand, he could show up today, dead, and I'd be delighted. But Al Qaeda would still exist."
In that effort, Franks and Rumsfeld. both said the U.S. would never flag in its struggle to topple Al Qaeda.
"This will take as long as it takes," Franks said, calling it a 24-hour-a-day effort.
Franks also wouldn't rule out the use of U.S. or allied ground forces in the battle, saying he wanted to keep all his options open.
On Wednesday, Rumsfeld said U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan have killed scores of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. The terrorist network and its Taliban allies still have between 40,000 and 50,000 troops in Afghanistan, the defense secretary said in a television interview.
Twice a day, he said, reports cross his desk detailing Taliban battlefield dead, from a half-dozen to 20 at a time.
For the men personally prosecuting the war on terror, the battles continued.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Jones, said Thursday that the USS Peleliu, a large-deck amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Sea, had been "pulled off station" temporarily to perform a sensitive mission. He would not provide details but said the new mission was unrelated to the war in Afghanistan.
The Peleliu is the flagship of a three-ship Marine Expeditionary Unit carrying 2,200 Marines. Another Marine Expeditionary Unit is afloat in the Mediterranean Sea and may be preparing to head to the Arabian Sea.
An aide said the Peleliu would remain in the same general area to do its new mission.
For the first time in the month-long bombing campaign, Pentagon officials Wednesday showed a human victim of the bombing..
In introducing the video clip showing the destructive power of the U.S. weapon, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace said it offered a "rather unique" view of the bombing campaign.
The fuzzy images from a plane's gun camera showed a figure emerge from a vehicle shortly before being obliterated by an American bomb.
"You'll see two vehicles, one pull up next to another. You'll see an individual walk between the two vehicles just before a guided munition destroys both vehicles," said Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On the other side, Pace said, some anti-Taliban fighters are so dedicated they have charged on horseback against Taliban tanks. American special forces troops are helping some of the rebel groups with supplies, ammunition and tactical advice.
"These folks are aggressive. They're taking the war to their enemy and ours," Pace said.
Rumsfeld claimed Taliban forces are violating international law by putting troops and military equipment in schools, mosques, hospitals and other civilian sites to try to draw U.S. bombs to kill civilians.
"These people couldn't care less about international law," Rumsfeld said on PBS' The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. "They killed 5,000 people in the United States without batting an eye, and if they had weapons of mass destruction, they'd have killed hundreds of thousands."
The Associated Press contributed to this report