DEC. 8, 2001 - JAN. 7, 2002

Last update 17 Jan. 2002

WAR NEWS JUNKIES: If 24/7 cable coverage isn't providing the details you crave on the war in Afghanistan, check out the Center for Defense Information's action updates: http://www.cdi.org/terrorism/actionupdate.cfm.

Gen. Wesley Clark: Pakistanis' role critical
Studying lessons of battle success
US expects Afghan peace force soon
Q&A: Afghan peacekeeping force
U.S. Loses Its 1st Serviceman to Enemy Fire
War plan shifts into 'peculiar twilight'


Gen. Wesley Clark: Pakistanis' role critical

December 14, 2001

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Update: We're definitely holding on to the enemy force, and we're pummeling it with airpower. As they suffer losses, they're gradually being pushed into a smaller and smaller area. The end is in sight, but when it will come is hard to predict.

I think some al Qaeda will still try to break out, if they haven't already. Obviously, the path of easiest escape is through Pakistan, where the al Qaeda don't have to face the Americans or the people they've been fighting every day. It's a natural temptation, so the Pakistanis' role is critical. There are certain trails out of that region, but if you were Osama bin Laden, you wouldn't use a trail, would you? Wouldn't you just walk across the side of a mountain to get out? I certainly would.

As to whether bin Laden is still in Afghanistan, the administration has been very careful thus far not to let expectations run ahead of reality. If some officials are saying now that they think he's there, they must have some pretty good evidence beyond the fact that the al Qaeda fighters are fighting -- things that they haven't shared with us. My guess is that he's there, around Tora Bora.

Impact: Hopefully, the Pakistanis are in "perfect blocking position," as one U.S. official said, but I've been in too many military operations to ever take such an assertion at face value. It depends on so many things -- the discipline of the troops, their alertness, the insight of the chain of command. It's just so easy to make a mistake. That terrain is difficult to cover, especially at night. If people doze off at 3 o'clock in the morning, the al Qaeda are going to get away -- and that's typically going to happen in the field when armies get sleepy. So it's very difficult to maintain a perfect so-called picket.

But maybe bin Laden has never prepared an escape rout -- he and Taliban ruler Mullah Omar have done a lot of other dumb things. The Taliban are the least competent fighting force I think the United States has ever faced, in terms of their relative strength compared to us. And Osama bin Laden hasn't been very smart. In the videotape ... released Thursday, he's acting like he's perfectly safe even as his whole world was collapsing around him. He had a real misunderstanding of America, American fighting capabilities and American determination.

Tactics: There are basically two things being done with airpower. One, the AC-130s ... fly above the mountains, looking at them using infrared technology and optics. If they spot something, like a tunnel opening or al Qaeda position, they can call in airstrikes or use their own guns to wipe out enemy troops on the ground. They have small-caliber cannon, larger-caliber cannon, rapid-fire guns -- all very, very potent weapons and very accurate. They can see individual people walking on the ground and strike them.

And then you've got the bombers and the fighters delivering high explosives on designated points such as enemy centers of resistance, tunnel openings, ammo depots, tunnels and likely ambush points -- all thanks to the activities of and information provided them by special forces on the ground. So U.S. warplanes can strike throughout the area with impunity. It's a devastating combination.

The ground forces' goal is to move forward, fire, locate the enemy position, and then call in airpower to destroy the enemy. They're absolutely vital in all this. You could not find the enemy forces without the ground forces.

Strategy:  Clearly, Osama bin Laden has to be surprised the way the local people have turned against him and have supported the Americans. And it should be clear that it's the Americans that are helping organize this. The assistance of the Eastern Alliance there, of course, is critical. But it's being guided and directed in large part by the Americans. Special forces teams on the ground provide assurance, provide airpower and use the technology to its advantage. We have to give our special forces troops a lot of credit, because they've spent a long time training to do this and they're doing it very well.

It's tough to say exactly how much ammunition, fighters or supplies al Qaeda now has at Tora Bora. But the movement forward of the Eastern Alliance fighters, the tightening circle around this enemy pocket -- that is measurable. The enemy would never fall back, on its own, into a smaller and smaller area, because it would make itself a smaller and smaller target, where more firepower can be concentrated. As this goes on, the likelihood of bin Laden escaping decreases.



Studying lessons of battle success
Technology brings new style of warfare

By Tom Bowman
Sun National Staff
Originally published December 17, 2001

WASHINGTON - From a ridge above the dusty Afghan village of Tirin Kowt, Army Capt. Jason Amerine became part of a new American style of warfare.

The 30-year-old Green Beret officer, leading a dozen-member "A Team" and advising Pashtun rebels, called in U.S. airstrikes against a larger Taliban force. Hundreds of fighters and scores of vehicles were surging toward the town outside Kandahar.

Using sophisticated radios and range finders, Amerine helped the U.S. pilots unleash their precision-guided bombs. Staggering to regroup, the enemy troops were hammered again. The valley was soon littered with burning trucks and Taliban fighters. The survivors gave up their arms, paving the way for the fall of Kandahar.

Amerine later called last month's battle "our greatest victory." Military officers and defense analysts call it a turning point in modern warfare, a marriage of highly skilled soldiers and cutting-edge technology, akin to the martial revolutions spurred in centuries past by such innovative weapons as the heavy bow and the repeating rifle.

For the first time over a period of sustained combat, Amerine and other U.S. special operations soldiers on the ground were able to call in overwhelming numbers of precision bombs, some weighing thousands of pounds. Nearly 60 percent of the estimated 12,000 bombs used as of last week were precision munitions, a major increase from the nearly 35 percent dropped during the Kosovo campaign two years ago and the 10 percent that targeted Iraqi forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Never-before-used surveillance drones circled for up to 30 hours high above the battlefield, providing live video and still pictures. Their information - and other technologies not readily available even two years ago - directed pilots to emerging targets, providing precise coordinates. Moreover, one of those unmanned aircraft, the Predator, was armed, firing an anti-tank Hellfire missile at an enemy convoy, another first.

In addition to the new weaponry, the conflict has underscored the need for more rapidly deployed troops who can get to a battle in hours or days rather than months, as in the gulf war.

Michael Vickers, a former Green Beret officer and now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, called the Afghanistan campaign "a new American way of war, a new operational concept."

"The use of long-range precision air power in conjunction with special forces on the ground and opposition forces is essential for overthrowing a government," said Vickers, insisting it produced an antiterror model that can be employed elsewhere.

President Bush, in his speech last week at the Citadel, the South Carolina military academy, called Afghanistan a "proving ground" for the "new tactics and new weapons" needed to defend America. The war has provided more valuable military lessons "than a decade of blue ribbon panels and think-tank symposiums," Bush declared.

Defense analysts and military officers agree there are particularly valuable lessons to be drawn from the current conflict.

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Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, saw in the Taliban's defeat "the most innovative use of special forces since Vietnam," while retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander who led the allied attacks in Kosovo, said the conflict confirmed the decade-long lesson about the importance of precision weaponry.

The most prized of these precision bombs is the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), which uses satellite guidance to find its target. JDAMs were used hundreds of times in Kosovo, their combat debut. Thousands have been dropped in Afghanistan.

"To use [precision weaponry] effectively, you've got to take the risk to put people on the ground to spot the targets," said Clark, whose request for U.S. ground troops in Kosovo was initially rejected by then-President Bill Clinton. "Without the guys on the ground, none of this [battlefield success in Afghanistan] would have ever happened."

By far the greatest technological breakthrough has been the use of the high-flying drones. William Arkin, a defense analyst and former Army intelligence officer, predicted that drones will ultimately replace manned spy planes and some satellites, as well as gain greater use as bombers.

"There's a real revolution that's going on right now," Arkin said.

Afghanistan witnessed the first battlefield use of the high-tech drone Global Hawk, which can fly at 65,000 feet - beyond the range of most surface-to-air missiles - and send back live pictures, even through clouds and fog.

The Predator drone, flying at 25,000 feet, can transmit live video - and deliver a missile - "A harbinger of the future," said Arkin.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said that the Afghanistan conflict shows the need for more of these pilotless aircraft.

The use and success of several hundred special operations forces - from the Army's Green Berets and secretive Delta Force to Navy SEALs and Air Force commandos - also raises questions about the deployment of troops and the structure of the armed forces. The Special Operations Command includes about 45,000 troops but accounts for just 1.3 percent of the Pentagon budget and only a slightly higher percentage of uniformed personnel.

Could fewer troops be deployed? Could the U.S. military, which has 2.4 million service members, be pared back?

"If you can put fewer people in harm's way and be more effective, why not do it?" said a Pentagon official involved in military transformation.

Afghanistan shows the need for more mobile forces that can get to the fight quickly, unlike the gulf war, where it took six months to deploy 500,000 American troops. "The gulf war as a model is gone," said Clark, the former NATO commander.

The Army has embarked on an effort to create brigades of 4,000 soldiers that can reach anywhere in the world within four days, carrying lighter equipment. Even before the U.S.-led attacks in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld and his top advisers were pressing the Army to hasten establishment of those units. More money is expected in next year's budget for Army transformation.

Clark said the Army could learn a lesson from the Marine Corps, which quickly deployed more than 1,200 troops from ships in the northern Arabian Sea to a desert base in southern Afghanistan, about 400 miles away. It was the longest distance covered in an amphibious deployment in Marines history, officials said.

The Marines, in addition to infantry, landed at what became Camp Rhino with attack and heavy-lift helicopters and light armored vehicles.

Even as American bombers continue to slam the Afghan mountains around Tora Bora and U.S. special forces troops search for suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network members, defense officials are trying to understand the implications of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Last week the Defense Science Board, a senior advisory group at the Pentagon, unveiled a task force called "Enduring Freedom Lessons Learned." The panel will look at everything from intelligence collection to weaponry in an effort to apply the experience in Afghanistan to future battles in the war on terrorism.

Besides the drone aircraft and precision bombs, some officials are pointing to other key weapons, which could receive a budget boost.

Among them is the B-2 stealth bomber, which flew nonstop from a base in Missouri to attack targets in Afghanistan. Another is the aircraft carrier, which some in the Pentagon had disparaged earlier this year as a floating target vulnerable to missile attacks. Bombers and carriers may be vital to future military operations, particularly where land bases are not available, some analysts argue.

Despite the optimism over the military success in Afghanistan, some say it would be a mistake to use the experience there as a model for future conflicts and to tailor the armed forces for antiterrorism to the exclusion of other possible missions.

"Each conflict is unique," said Andrew Krepinevich, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "You have to be wary of applying the lessons of a military operation to a future operation."

Thompson, the Lexington Institute analyst, noted that in Afghanistan the U.S. military was fortunate to have an ally on the ground in the Northern Alliance and a relatively weak enemy with a limited and unsophisticated military arsenal. "The Taliban is less capable than anyone we can think of," said Thompson.

Moreover, a country with sophisticated air defenses could shoot down or jam the vaunted Predator, some analysts pointed out. And other countries, such as Iraq, could field a more lethal army and wield a formidable supply of chemical and biological weapons that would pose a greater threat to U.S. forces. Tens of thousands of ground troops might be needed to remove Saddam Hussein from power should the U.S. attempt to do so, said Clark.

One senior Army officer, who requested anonymity, noted that earlier this year, defense officials were convinced that the military must be reorganized to fight a conventional war in the Far East, only to find the nation in a battle against terrorists in Central Asia.

"We are horrible at predicting events," said the officer, noting that future conflicts might focus on China and Taiwan or the oil in the Caspian Sea region. "[Terrorism] is just another fight. ... Five years from now, we could be involved in something totally different."

Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun


BBC News:
Monday, 17 December, 2001, 11:20 GMT

US expects Afghan peace force soon

The first troops from an international peacekeeping force are expected to arrive in Afghanistan by the end of the week, a United States envoy has said.

James Dobbins, Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan, said on Monday that he anticipated "at least lead elements" of the force to reach the capital Kabul by 22 December, when the new interim government is due to take power.

He said he did not expect "a large number" of troops to be stationed in Kabul.

Wesley K. Clark

Former Nato commander Wesley Clark told the BBC that 5,000 troops would be needed to keep peace in the city.

But US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday that he expected 3,000 to 5,000 troops to be deployed in the whole of Afghanistan.

The US is not expected to provide peacekeeping troops.

General Mohammed Fahim, designated as the new government's defence minister, has said that no more than 1,000 peacekeepers were needed, and that they would merely provide security for the new administration.

But some Western countries have argued that about 8,000 troops will be necessary to maintain stability in and around Kabul, as the new interim government takes power.

Unclear mandate

There is also uncertainty about the mandate of the peacekeepers, which will be authorised by the United Nations.

Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah has said he accepted the need for a multi-national peacekeeping contingent - but with restrictions on its ability to use force.

He wants the force to be deployed on the basis of Chapter Six of the UN Charter, which allows the use of force only for self-defence.

General Clark said the troops should have a Chapter Seven mandate, which would allow them to use force to carry out their mission.

Several countries planning to send troops are thought to agree with General Clark.


A Western military team arrived in Kabul on Sunday to urge the interim administration to accept a substantial international peacekeeping presence.

The party, led by British Major General John McColl, includes representatives from various other countries including France, Canada and Italy.

General McColl said on Sunday he hoped to "ensure a meeting of minds" with representatives of the future interim government on the issue.

He stressed that no decisions had been made on the suggested force.

General McColl said he had been "very encouraged" by what he had seen on his first day in the "peaceful" capital and was looking forward to his meetings.

The UN is still discussing the mechanics of setting up the force, and has not yet issued a resolution authorising its deployment. That is expected this week.

The force is being set up under the terms of the Bonn agreement between Afghan factions, which created a new post-Taleban political set-up for the country.

Britain has indicated it is prepared to lead such a force if asked, but will not make an official announcement until the team's return from its reconnaissance mission - expected on Wednesday.


BBC News:
Monday, 17 December, 2001, 17:59 GMT

Q&A: Afghan peacekeeping force

The international community is working on the make-up and mandate for a peacekeeping force to be deployed in Afghanistan. The BBC's Paul Reynolds answers some of the key questions about the force.

When will the peacekeeping force be deployed?

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons on Monday that 1,000-1,500 British troops would take part in the force.

He hoped the first elements would be there by 22 December. That is the day when the new interim government takes over, as agreed in Bonn.

The symbolism of getting at least a token force in is obviously important. It would signal international support for the new government and give more physical confidence to those taking part.

But because time is so short, only about 100 soldiers are likely to get there in time.

There are some British Royal Marines standing by on a ship in the region and Britain could fly in a headquarters unit at very short notice. The main body of the force would follow later.

But first, detailed decisions have to be taken about the force's role and about which countries will take part.

Who will be in the force?

Britain will take part. Other countries invited to a special meeting in London last Friday were the United States, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Malaysia and Turkey.

The Americans are unlikely to contribute ground troops, but their logistical strengths might well be called on. They could also provide back-up if something goes wrong, such as medical evacuation or air support.

The main elements of the force are likely to be from western Europe, with troops from countries with Islamic populations like Turkey and Jordan sent to provide greater political balance.

Why is Britain leading the force?

Britain is likely to be in the lead because it has the experience of conducting peacekeeping operations.

The United States is reluctant these days to use its troops in a peacekeeping role, and, in any case, are still fighting the war.

Given that the Americans do not want to be in on the ground, the British are the next obvious candidates - and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to be heavily involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

How many are going?

The US Defence Secretary says that 3,500 to 5,000 troops will be needed, though the Northern Alliance Defence Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim says that only 1,000 are necessary.

Wesley K. Clark

A figure somewhere between the two might emerge. There needs to be enough soldiers to provide a critical mass and to be strong enough to deter any opposition without being an occupying force.

The former Nato commander Wesley Clark says the number will have to be quite high to be effective.

Will they be welcomed?

The peacekeepers will be welcomed when they arrive, but the question is whether they will be welcome if they stay. Peacekeeping forces have a habit of becoming unpopular.

The timetable for the force is an important part of the discussions going on at the UN about its mandate. For the moment, though, reports from Afghanistan indicate that a war-weary population wants an international force and that the military leaders will accept one, however reluctantly.

Where will they be deployed?

Initially in Kabul, but the idea is that they should also be in the other major cities. The French, for example, will probably go to Mazar-e-Sharif, where they already have a detachment.

What exactly will they do?

One of the biggest issues under discussion is whether the force will have powers to intervene in inter-factional fighting, if there is any, or whether its role should simply be to provide a presence.

The outcome of these talks will help determine the size of the force. The more active the force, the bigger it will have to be.

There is also the issue of its armaments - should the peacekeepers be equipped with armoured personnel carriers? These would provide more protection but they would also have the look of occupation and interference.

The mandate of the force has yet to be clearly determined, which means it is also unclear how long it will be there. Peacekeeping forces have a habit of remaining in place for years, but Tony Blair says the thinking at the moment is that the force would be there for some months only.


Los Angeles Times

January 5, 2002

U.S. Loses Its 1st Serviceman to Enemy Fire
Afghanistan: The Green Beret's death in an ambush shows the high-tech campaign is still risky. A CIA agent is seriously injured.


WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier was killed Friday in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan, becoming the first U.S. service member slain by enemy action in three months of warfare, Pentagon officials said.

The Green Beret was identified as Sgt. 1st Class Nathan R. Chapman, 31, of San Antonio, Texas, the Pentagon said. He was ambushed while on a mission with allied Afghan fighters near Khowst, where Al Qaeda fighters have congregated, officials said.

A CIA officer who was part of the same intelligence-gathering mission was seriously wounded in the fighting, although his injuries weren't considered life-threatening, officials said. Both were evacuated from the area by a U.S. military rescue team, officials said. The incident was a reminder that the Pentagon's precision-bombing techniques and other advanced technology have enabled the U.S. to wage massive military campaigns with remarkably few casualties. That the U.S. has been able to accomplish so much in Afghanistan with only one soldier killed by hostile fire "is a very powerful sign of American military strength," retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark said on CNN.


At the same time, it underscored the fact that U.S. forces in the country continue to face risks even with the Taliban regime ousted and its allies in the Al Qaeda terror network scattered, officials noted.

As the search for Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders continued Friday, the commander believed to have been hiding the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, reportedly surrendered to anti-Taliban forces.

Abdul Wahed Baghrani, who is believed to have sheltered Omar in a remote mountainous area near Baghran, in south-central Afghanistan, is helping the search for his former leader, according to the transitional Afghan government.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the Afghan campaign, said at a news conference in Tampa, Fla., that allied troops have indications that Omar is still in the Baghran region.

Baghrani's surrender was reported by Abdullah Jan, a senior official in the security section of the Afghan Interior Ministry.

"Now the process of handing over heavy and light weapons is underway," Jan said. He said he didn't know why Baghrani was unable to simply hand over Omar.

Afghan troops as well as U.S. special operations troops were searching for Omar in caves and mountain redoubts in the Baghran area, he said.

The United States also gained custody of the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and the Al Qaeda member who ran Osama bin Laden's training camps, Associated Press reported Friday. Pakistan is turning over the former envoy, Abdul Salam Zaeef, who would be one of the highest-ranking Taliban officials to fall into U.S. hands, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Al Qaeda member, Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, has been taken to the southern city of Kandahar for questioning, a U.S. official said, adding that the detainee is considered a potentially rich source of information about the terrorist organization.

The main focus of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan is now the area around Khowst, only a few miles from the border with Pakistan.

U.S. warplanes attacked a reported Al Qaeda compound in the region Friday for the second straight day. U.S. officials said the area was struck again because of intelligence suggesting that Al Qaeda fighters were gathering at the site, possibly for a move across the border.

The compound, which included caves and some buildings used for training, is in an area that was struck by U.S. cruise missiles in 1998 in retaliation for the bombing of American embassies in Africa.

In his news conference at Central Command headquarters, Franks said he was "thankful every day that we have not lost more people than we have lost in this fight."

Chapman was married and had two young children. His parents, Will and Lynn Chapman of Georgetown, Texas, said he "loved the Army and referred to his unit as his second family," Associated Press reported late Friday.

Chapman, a member of the 1st Special Forces Group out of Ft. Lewis, Wash., was the second American to lose his life in enemy action in the war. Johnny "Mike" Spann, a CIA officer, died Nov. 25 in a riot by Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners at a jail in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed Dec. 5 when a U.S. bomb missed its target. Since the war began Oct. 7, five other members of the military have died in three accidents and an unexplained shooting.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other defense officials have warned almost daily that the risks to U.S. forces remain high. U.S. troops on the ground face great danger in their cave searches as well as from ambushes, terrorist-style bombings of their temporary installations, land mines and booby-traps, officials say.

U.S. Commander Defends Ground Tactics

The Green Berets, in some cases working with CIA officers, have been combing the region on intelligence-gathering missions with Afghan fighters. They have been searching caves and bunkers, gathering weapons and interrogating captured Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.

Franks said that a just-completed visit with troops had strengthened his conviction that U.S. leaders were correct to ask Afghan allies to take a large role in the ground fighting.

"The plan we have exercised has been the appropriate plan, and I wouldn't change it at all, because it makes sense when you have a willing ally," he said.

Franks also detailed the U.S. forces' progress in Afghanistan.

He said they have searched seven of the eight most promising cave complexes in the mountainous Tora Bora area north of Khowst, where Al Qaeda fighters and Bin Laden were believed to have taken refuge. The search turned up a large number of bodies, as well as some heavy military equipment, including a tank, he said.

Franks said a search of more than 40 sites in Afghanistan has uncovered no evidence that Al Qaeda and Taliban officials had been able to develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. But the search showed "considerable indication of interest and desire by Al Qaeda to acquire weapons of mass destruction," he said.

One aspect of the manhunt has drawn some scrutiny. One version of leaflets dropped over Afghanistan to win the surrender of remaining Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters is facing questions about accuracy. It includes a photo depicting a clean-shaven, shorn Bin Laden in Western clothing and says, "The murderer and coward has abandoned you."

Rumsfeld was asked Thursday whether people, especially in Muslim countries, might see the leaflet photo as proof that the United States fabricates evidence. "That is a possibility, that people will say something that's not true," Rumsfeld replied. "There's nothing much we can do about it."

U.S. Now Holding 270 Prisoners of War

At Central Command, Franks said that more than 270 Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners are now under U.S. control, including American Talib John Walker Lindh, who is one of eight prisoners aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan in the Arabian Sea. Some prisoners will be moved to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within 10 days, Franks said. No decision has been made on when or where to move Lindh, he said.

Franks said the government of Kyrgyzstan has agreed to allow the United States to use a military base there as a transport hub for U.S. aircraft involved in the Afghan war. Arrangements, however, are incomplete.

Elsewhere, a U.S. defense official said the Pentagon has stepped up airborne surveillance along the coast of Somalia to watch for the arrival of any Al Qaeda fighters.

The East African nation is largely ungoverned, and U.S. officials believe that the defeated terrorist organization may seek refuge there. But the defense official said the extra reconnaissance doesn't mean that U.S. forces are planning to make Somalia the next target of their conventional military campaign.

In southern Afghanistan, the security situation appeared to be deteriorating in the Kandahar area, according to Stephanie Bunker, a spokeswoman for the United Nations in Afghanistan.

The U.N.'s security assessment team found that there was random rocket and gunfire both in the former Taliban stronghold and in the surrounding area. The security situation is "not good," Bunker said.


Richter reported from Washington and Rubin from Kabul, Afghanistan.



War plan shifts into 'peculiar twilight'
As fighting dwindles, new hazards emerge for American troops

By Tom Bowman
Sun National Staff
Originally published January 7, 2002

WASHINGTON - American airstrikes in Afghanistan have slowed to a trickle. Searches of caves around Tora Bora are nearing the end. A new and improved cave-busting bomb slated for the front two weeks ago is now being held in reserve.

Those developments and similar ones provide ample evidence that Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. military campaign against the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorists, has entered a new phase, one that is more dogged, potentially hazardous and diplomatically sensitive.

The new face of the war is taking shape throughout the war-torn country. Small groups of American soldiers have joined Afghan fighters on raids and intelligence-gathering efforts, an open-ended effort that will likely take months and increase the possibility of casualties.

On Friday, an Army special operations soldier was killed as he joined Afghan fighters in a firefight against enemy forces near the eastern city of Khost.

It was the first reported death of a U.S. soldier by hostile fire and comes after the killing in November of a CIA agent by Taliban prisoners near Mazar-e Sharif and the deaths in December by friendly fire of three Army Green Beret soldiers outside Kandahar.

"The risk to our soldiers from ambush and booby traps is pretty significant now," one defense official said before the report of the soldier's death near Khost. "It's potentially more serious."

Hundreds of Marines in the south are being replaced by Army airborne troops, who will form a garrison force of greater duration, one complete with MPs to guard the growing number of prisoners and a "quick reaction" capability to mount helicopter-borne raids against enemy hideouts. Several hundred special operations soldiers also are working throughout the country.

Meanwhile, allied relationships are being tested. Anti-Taliban Afghan fighters are in some instances negotiating the surrender of their one-time foes, which Pentagon officials fear could lead to some of them slipping away.

"You have seen many people disappear where all these negotiations have gone on," said a Pentagon official. In addition, there were tribal groups around Tora Bora "selling passage to Pakistan" for al-Qaida fighters, officials said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters last week that much remains to be done despite a new anti-Taliban government and the rout of al-Qaida.

"We've got a lot left to do in Afghanistan," said Rumsfeld, adding that U.S. military forces will remain there "as long as it takes to complete the mission." The first part of that updated mission is to make sure the Taliban "stays out of power," he said, the second is to track down the elusive Taliban and al-Qaida leadership.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank, said the United States is finding itself in a "peculiar twilight" in Afghanistan, "somewhere between mopping up and nation building."

"We fought a limited war using proxies," he said. "We haven't lost, but we haven't won decisively." The top Taliban leadership, including supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden are still at large. The Afghan fighters are becoming less interested in pursuing those top leaders and their remaining supporters, Thompson noted. Increasingly, that job will have to be handled by U.S. troops, he said.

Thompson said the U.S. strategy of relying heavily on a proxy force might have outlived its usefulness. The Afghans have achieved their goal of a new, non-Taliban government and a collapsed al-Qaida, while some U.S. objectives have yet to be reached.

"We're now facing the problem you always have when you use proxies. Your strategy works only when your interests are closely aligned," he said. "When your interests diverge, the strategy unravels."

Rumsfeld was clearly frustrated last week in describing the Byzantine negotiation process going on between the various levels of anti-Taliban fighters and the entrenched Taliban forces. "I don't know, precisely, what's going on with respect to that," he told reporters.

Still, he said that the interim government of Hamid Karzai agrees that the top Taliban leadership and those in the al-Qaida network must face justice.

"We're not in the business of authorizing any kind of negotiation that would let people like that go," Rumsfeld said.

Wesley K. Clark

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme commander who ran the U.S.-led air campaign in Kosovo two years ago, said he was not concerned by the negotiations between the Taliban holdouts and the new Afghan leaders.

"If we don't like the result, we'll apply torque and get a different result," he said. Such torque equates to U.S. assistance, both military and financial, he said.

Milt Bearden, who ran the CIA's effort to arm Afghan fighters against the Soviet occupation that began in 1979, said such negotiations are common in a country where many fighters are related and conflicts are "like a football game" - when the violence ends, both sides go home.

Overall, both men said, the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan is proceeding well, even though the leadership of the Taliban and al-Qaida have yet to be located.

"Most of the fighting has stopped," Clark said. The Taliban and al-Qaida "are scattered now. We've got to go out and eliminate them."

Bearden said that "a lot of worse things could have happened." The Northern Alliance did not move farther to the south, which would have upset the Pashtun tribes, he said. Moreover, he continued, the United States succeeded in enlisting the Pashtun in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. And Hamid Karzai was the best choice among the potential leaders in the country, Bearden said.

"We're in pretty good shape in Afghanistan," said Bearden, who hopes that the United States will dispatch troops to the western areas around Herat and remain in the country to serve as a check on the warlords and make sure peace is maintained.

The United States armed the Afghans against the Soviets, but Bearden recalls the lack of U.S. interest in the country once the Soviets pulled out in 1989. "We left very early the last time," he said.

Still, some officers in the Pentagon complain that there was a deliberate effort from the beginning of the current campaign to minimize the number of U.S. troops on the ground. More troops, they argue, might have prevented the Taliban leadership and al-Qaida fighters from fleeing and made it easier to mop up the remaining pockets of resistance.

"Without a U.S. ground force of substantial presence," said one Army officer, "you don't control events on the ground."

Clark said only when the campaign is over can a judgment be made about whether more troops would have made a difference in Afghanistan. The country has a long history of fierce opposition to a foreign military presence, from the British forces in the 19th century to the more recent Soviet occupation. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, may have been convinced that the climate was too hostile for large numbers of troops, Clark said.

Asked late last week whether a larger military force would have made a difference, Franks told reporters: "I do not have regrets that more U.S. troops have not been put into Afghanistan. I believe that the plan that we've exercised has been the appropriate plan and I would not change it at all."

Franks said there was a "willing ally" in Afghanistan, meaning the Northern Alliance and the Pashtun tribes, "willing to work with us in order to permit us to reach our goals."

Meanwhile, there have been reports of increased U.S. and allied surveillance flights around Somalia, an indication of possible future military action. Other reports have said that some al-Qaida fighters have fled there. One Pentagon official predicted that "surgical" strikes in the country may come soon.

Asked about Somalia yesterday, Franks indicated that the small African country could be a target.

"Somalia, as a failed state, is an area where we believe in the past, certainly, there has been some terrorist activity, and I think we'll take a hard look at it to be sure that that's not the case today," Franks said. "And if that becomes the case, then we'll look at it the same way we look at other harbors for terrorists globally."

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