U.S. special forces, some of them on horseback, have been fighting Taliban troops and Al Qaeda terrorists on the ground in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday.
"They are armed and they're participating," Rumsfeld said. "They have gone into places and met resistance and dealt with it.
"We have not had anyone killed, but they have been in situations.... It is becoming less and less hospitable for Al Qaeda to be around."
Rumsfeld said the U.S. troops in Afghanistan have requested that saddles, bridles and horsefeed be included in supply drops into the area.
He would not say specifically how many forces are fighting on the ground, saying only that "we have hundreds."
Rumsfeld didn't specify how many combat incidents U.S. ground forces had been involved in. He said U.S. forces had been overrun at times, but they were able to call in airstrikes to fend off their attackers.
Troops from U.S.-allied countries also are on the ground, Rumsfeld said, but he would not identify those countries.
He confirmed reports that high-level Taliban leaders have been captured by opposition Afghan forces and American officials are planning to interrogate them. "We do have some names, and they were not privates," he said.
Rumsfeld spoke to reporters while flying to Great Lakes, Ill., where he was to address the graduating class at the Naval Training Center. The center, the only boot camp for Navy enlisted men and women, graduates 55,000 recruits a year.
Rumsfeld's comments came after U.S. officials declared they were "tightening the noose" around Usama bin Laden's terrorist network with selective air attacks and clandestine direct action on the ground.
The defense secretary said there's "a good deal happening" in the south of the country, where Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters have fled as the opposition has overtaken large parts of the country.
Talking about tribes in the south, Rumsfeld said, "They have been moving into towns and villages and cities and putting pressure on the Taliban to leave."
Asked what the U.S. special forces are doing in the south, he said, "They are looking for information. They're interdicting roads. They're killing Taliban that won't surrender and Al Qaeda that are trying to move from one place to another."
He said special forces are also looking for airfields where transport aircraft can land supplies as operations continue in the area.
He pledged to keep up the pressure through the Muslim holy time of Ramadan, including hunting down bin Laden and his cohorts "as rapidly as possible."
Pentagon officials said Friday that the bombing of Afghanistan has continued. "No change in operations as a result of Ramadan," said spokesman Richard McGraw. He didn't specify where the bombing was occurring but offered: "I wouldn't characterize any area as secure."
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in the region, planned to present his updated war plan to President Bush on Friday. The sudden retreat of Taliban forces from northern Afghanistan this week has prompted Franks to focus more intensely on rooting out leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
"The bombing will become more and more and more focused" on Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, Franks said Thursday. Anti-Taliban forces in the north are consolidating their territorial gains and U.S. special operations forces in the south are working with other opposition forces in the hunt for the terrorists.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.