Afghanistan: October 19, 2001


How We Will Get Bin Laden- The US Air Force has been working for a decade on a combination of tactics and technology to destroy Scud missile launchers within ten minutes of detecting them. The system involves a combination of sensors including satellites, E-8 JSTARS radar planes, U-2 spy planes, EC-135 Rivet Joint planes, Predator recon drones, Global Hawk recon drones, CIA Gnat-1 recon drones, and tactical recon aircraft. This is being used in Afghanistan to destroy moving military vehicles. The concept is to maintain standing patrols over certain parts of Afghanistan including sensor aircraft, strike aircraft with guided bombs or Maverick missiles, and (in a first for the USAF) a general flying in an airborne command post over enemy airspace. Whenever a target is spotted, sensors pass the data to the general who gives clearance to shoot, and a circling attack plane is given the mission. The current reaction time is about 11 minutes, but the Air Force thinks it can reduce this to as little as five minutes with practice. In the near future, when the US has secured a ground base, Army AH-64 helicopters will replace the circling F-18s, F-117s, and F-15Es in the killer role; the Army's 30mm cannon will be more economical than Maverick missiles or 500-pound bombs.

That's all well and good, but how does it work against bin Laden and his deputies (not to mention his elite "Arab" troops) hiding in caves? The plan is to "shake them out" by dropping GBU-37 guided 2000-pound penetrating bombs on the top of the caves and by flying rocket-powered AGM-130 bombs (which have a considerable horizontal range) into the mouths of the caves. It's a mind game in some regards, as we would prefer to get al Qaeda and Taliban out in the open rather than entombing them, but it is the threat of entombment that will make them run for it. A few carefully placed near-misses and a few demonstrations of what a direct hit will do should provide a clear picture of the future. Those hiding in a given cave complex will know, when the first bombs start landing on their mountain, what lies in store and will "make a break for it" into the waiting sensors of the US Air Force, missiles of the US Navy, and guns of the US Army Apaches.--Steve Cole

British nuclear subs and one British carrier are operating with American carriers in the Indian ocean. Britain also has recon and bomber aircraft in Oman. Bombing raids on Kabul and Kandahar continue. Particular attention is being paid to the Taliban 55th brigade, a unit of some one thousand men (with tanks and artillery) that were organized by the bin Laden organization. 

American special forces are now openly operating in southern Afghanistan, making contact with tribal leaders and making deals to allow passage of American troops and food convoys. These efforts go hand in hand with low level diplomacy in the Pushtun villages and Afghan refugee camps just over the border in Pakistan. There is a lot of anti-Taliban sentiment on both sides of the border and it is being exploited. Words are seen as a vital weapon. Most Afghans want peace, the trick is to work out a deal that will make everyone (or at least most) happy (or at least content) and willing to stop fighting. Lot's of foreign aid is being talked about, but only if a reasonably uncorrupt and popular (by Afghan standards) government be formed. One of the ideas being discussed is a partition of the country between the ethnic groups (especially to put the Pushtuns in their own state, and all the other minorities in another.) One thing that is not likely is UN peacekeepers. The Afghans are hostile to armed foreigners and would probably not tolerate this. 

The US is eager to use the food weapon in Afghanistan. With Winter coming on, it is estimated that up to 50,000 tons of food a month must be moved into the country to avoid widespread death from starvation. Thats 400-500 truck loads a day that have to be unloading food, and even more truck loads of tents, blankets and medicine.  American radio stations (on the ground and in the air) are broadcasting daily to tell the Afghans that aid is on the way, if only they welcome the American soldiers escorting it. Money is also being offered, to tribal chiefs and warlords. This is more effective in the refugee camps. But this is a big help for Northern Alliance negotiators, who are working to make political deals with the largely Pushtun peoples in Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. More American food aid is entering from Iran, where the government is becoming more willing to work with the American operation in Afghanistan. Iran has agreed to cooperate in any search and rescue operations for American troops in western Afghanistan.

The civilian death toll so far is estimated 70, after some 2100 bombs and missiles have been used. 

In the north, the fighting around Mazar-i-Sharif has stalled, as the Taliban have reinforced their troops and dug in for a determined resistance.  Northern Alliance troops in western and central Afghanistan are fighting to link up with each other and the main Northern Alliance force in the north. The Taliban are apparently moving forces from these areas to reinforce Mazar-i-Sharif. 


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