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‘Bully’ Remark Earns Biden Lesson in Wartime Rhetoric

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., found himself on the defensive last week after suggesting that the United States could be perceived as a “high-tech bully” for waging war against Islamic militants from the air.

After Biden made the comment Monday in New York, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Biden’s choice of words was “completely irresponsible” and could “bring comfort to our enemies.” Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, described Biden’s remark as “outrageous and negligent,” and even Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., seemed to distance himself from Biden.

By the end of the week, the tempest had subsided, but not before yielding a pointed lesson in the political perils of candor in wartime.

The quote that caused the ruckus was embedded in a somewhat convoluted answer that Biden gave to a questioner at the Council on Foreign Relations, where the senator had given a speech. Asked about the risks of failing to defeat the Taliban in the next four weeks, before the onset of winter in Afghanistan, Biden replied that public opinion in the United States and the Muslim world will tolerate continued combat so long as “it is action that is mano a mano ... going against other forces on the ground.”

He continued, “The part that I think flies in the face of and plays into every stereotypical criticism of us is we’re this high-tech bully that thinks from the air we can do whatever we want to do, and it builds the case for those who want to make the case against us that all we’re doing is indiscriminately bombing innocents, which is not the truth.”

Mountain Caves Used by Taliban Are Latest Targets of U.S. Bombs

THE WASHINGTON POST -- ABOARD THE USS CARL VINSON IN THE NORTHERN ARABIAN SEA

U.S. aircraft are carrying out strikes aimed at sealing off a network of mountain caves being used by Taliban and al Qaida forces to protect their weaponry and fighters, a senior Navy commander said Monday.

In recent days, fighter jets from this aircraft carrier have been dropping 2,000-pound bunker-penetrating bombs and other ordnance on the entrances and exits of some of the hundreds of caves used as mountain hideaways by the Taliban.

“It’s a fairly extensive network that’s out there, but we’ll systematically go after it the best we can,” said Rear Adm. Thomas E. Zelibor, the commander of the Vinson battle group.

The focus on sealing caves is part of a new U.S. emphasis on taking the air war directly to Taliban and al Qaida fighting forces. “We’ve shifted more from facilities and the command and control and those kinds of things to now, where we’re focusing more on the troops, the tanks, the command bunkers, caves, those types” of things, Zelibor said.

But the admiral acknowledged that it was difficult to assess whether the strikes were achieving their goal. “We are going after the entrances and exits of that target set,” Zelibor said. “Whether they’re being sealed or not, that I don’t know.”

He said that while U.S. jets would have no difficulty hitting the caves, closing off the underground mazes and entombing their contents “may be a hard thing.”

The BLU-109 “bunker busters” being dropped by the Vinson’s jets have tips that allow them to penetrate deep into rock or concrete before exploding. The Afghan forces known as mujaheddin, or holy warriors, made extensive use of the network of caves, ancient aqueducts and tunnels during their resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and U.S. officials say they are being used again.