Afghan tribes are defecting, U.S. report says

Associated Press

ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT — U.S. airstrikes have caused a number of Afghan tribes to defect from the Taliban to the opposition, the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group said Saturday.

"I really don’t have good numbers, but our intelligence … will indicate there will be a tribe of 200 or 300 that will peel off to the other side," Rear Adm. Mark Fitzgerald said.

He estimated the total number of defections was "in the thousands."

U.S. pilots had been knocking out supply lines and were now focusing on Taliban troops, prompting the smaller factions to change sides, he said.

"The tribe comes across and decides it doesn’t want to be a Taliban member and will either go neutral or they will join with the other forces," Fitzgerald said.

The admiral said pilots from the Theodore Roosevelt were trying to help the opposition Northern Alliance by attacking Taliban targets in the countryside.

"They’ve got a lot of tanks and artillery, whereas the Northern Alliance troops are in many cases fighting from horseback," he said.

Fitzgerald said he had little information about accusations that U.S. planes had bombed civilian and Red Cross centers, but he cautioned that in some cases Taliban forces are hiding among civilians.

"The weapons don’t have 100 percent reliability," he said. "Sometimes these buildings … have dual purposes. All I can tell you is we’ve been very careful."

The International Committee of Red Cross said Friday that U.S. aircraft had bombed for a second time warehouses containing humanitarian aid at its compound in the Afghan capital, Kabul. U.S. bombs hit the same compound on Oct. 16.

In Washington, the U.S. Defense Department admitted that its planes mistakenly dropped 8 tons of bombs on the Red Cross warehouses this week.

The Roosevelt is one of three U.S. Navy battle groups in the Arabian Sea. The others are led by the aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and the USS Kittyhawk.

The Roosevelt’s F-14B Tomcat fighters and F/A-18C Hornets fly nightly strikes on the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. jets make roughly 100 flights over Afghanistan each day.

On Saturday, the Roosevelt’s crew celebrated the carrier’s 15th birthday with a party and a cake shaped like the ship. The Theodore Roosevelt was commissioned on Oct. 27, 1986.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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