KABUL, Afghanistan — The top American commander in Afghanistan said Sunday that his forces had killed as many as 200 fighters suspected of being members of the Taliban in the southern part of the country in the past two weeks. He said the military operation was part of a bid to combat a major effort by the Taliban to regroup in a bid for power.
The new details about the continuing operation came from Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who commands an American-led task force of 11,500 troops. Vines said the infiltration of the Taliban had been significant and might include as many 1,000 fighters who had moved into the area northeast of Kandahar, the previous Taliban stronghold.
"They're trying to regain power; we knew that was inevitable," Vines said after meeting here with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "There's no question that they're trying to regroup, no question."
Officers said the American attacks, including both air and ground forces, are the largest in Afghanistan in more than a year. On Saturday night alone, American airstrikes in Zabul Province, east of Kandahar, carried out with fixed-wing aircraft, killed as many as 26 Taliban fighters, the officers said.
American officials said the regrouping showed a boldness on the part of the Taliban that they had not seen since the fall of Mullah Muhammad Omar's government in December 2001. But they said the American attacks were resulting in success.
Rumsfeld said Sunday that he saw no need for any increase in American forces here despite the signs of a resurgence by the Taliban.
Rumsfeld stopped in Gardez, Afghanistan, Sunday to praise the work of an American military team that is part of an effort to help the Karzai government extend its authority beyond Kabul, the Afghan capital. Rumsfeld's trip to Afghanistan and Iraq has taken him to the two biggest American battlegrounds in the campaign against terrorism. On Sunday, he flew over craggy mountains in a Black Hawk helicopter for his visit to Gardez, a city that has come under rocket attack twice in the last five days, commanders there said.
In Iraq, Rumsfeld flew by helicopter and transport plane in and out of Baghdad International Airport, where two surface-to-air missiles were fired at another transport plane about two hours before his departure on Saturday afternoon.
Rumsfeld has suggested throughout the trip that such strikes should be regarded as a cost of doing business and may not diminish soon.
When asked by an American soldier when he expected the campaign against terrorism to end, Rumsfeld compared the military's role to that of police officers and firefighters who would always be needed. "You can't tuck in and hide and pretend that it's going to go away," he said of terrorism. "It isn't. The only solution is to do what we're doing."