New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - Various press reports on Friday said US troops are now on the ground in Afghanistan, but President Bush refused to confirm those reports.
During a joint press conference with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Shanghai, Bush said, "I will not comment upon military operations."
He told reporters, "I have made it very clear from the outset of this campaign that I will not respond to rumors and information that seeps into the public consciousness for fear of disrupting operations that are taking place."
An Iranian News Agency reported Friday from Peshawar, Pakistan, that one of its reporters had seen first-hand American troops in Herat, Afghanistan, which is very close to the Iranian border.
The presence of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan comes amid growing indications that the war is about to intensify after two weeks of U.S. and British air strikes.
Vice President Dick Cheney hinted at the ground war during a speech in New York Thursday night: "The success of our air campaign has cleared the way for further action which the Taliban and the al Qaeda terrorists can neither predict nor escape."
Cheney added, "It is important to realize the military aspect will not always be so visible. ... Other successes will come from covert operations that are not seen or heard of beyond a very small circle," Cheney added.
While talking reporters in London on Thursday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the upcoming weeks would be the ultimate test in the campaign against terrorism.
Without giving details, he said the U.S. led coalition never contemplated using air power alone to accomplish the mission.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also indicated Thursday that ground forces could soon be introduced in the military campaign
Rumsfeld stressed that warplanes alone will not be enough to rid Afghanistan of al-Qaida.
"There are things you can find from the air,'' Rumsfeld said, including clusters of enemy troops and weaponry. "But you cannot really do sufficient damage'' with air power alone. "We simply must go and find them."
Taliban no pushover, analysts warn
Indian analysts warn that Taliban forces are well trained in fighting on the ground, and they have geography on their side.
"Taliban forces defeated the Russians in ground battles, and one of the main reasons was the geographical structure of Afghanistan," said Indian defense analyst Rajesh Talwar. He said familiarity with the rugged landscape helped the Taliban.
Moreover, the Taliban have had plenty of practice fighting the opposition Northern Alliance over the years.
U.S. forces must remain alert in any battle with the masters of guerrilla warfare," Talwar said.
A Taliban official said Friday that the Taliban forces were ready for the deployment of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan and would relish the chance to avenge weeks of bombing.
Abdul Hanan Hemat, head of the Taliban's Bakhter information agency, said, "We don't want this fight but if there is a ground battle we would prefer that to aerial bombing."
"Over history, the Afghans have proved themselves on the battlefield, especially over the past 25 years. Anyone born over the past 25 years knows how to fight.
For the last several days, the U.S. has been laying the groundwork for the Northern Alliance troops to start its offensive. Areas in and around the key city of Mazar-e-Sharief are being pounded continuously, although as of Friday, the city remained under the control of Taliban forces.