Afghanistan: October 28, 2001



With the air war appearing to be doing more harm than good by causing civilian casualties, the debate goes on about how to use ground troops. The British are for establishing a base in Afghanistan as soon as possible. But many American leaders still oppose a lot of ground combat and are hoping to achieve some kind of political deal with dissident Taliban factions. Any ground operations will require building up large stockpiles of supplies in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This runs into conflicts between air force and army commanders, both of whom want to use more of the scarce air transports. The air force owns the transports, although they can be overruled by senior military and political leaders, but the air force will still get a lot of their stuff moved ("to support air transportation" or whatever.) But even sending in a lot of ground troops will still mean lots of air power, both bombers and helicopters. 

More of the bombing is against Taliban troops, in particular the non-Afghan units. The non-Afghan troops (called "the Arabs" locally) have long been the backbone of Taliban rule. If any nasty business had to be done (mass murder, executing Afghans, etc), the Arabs would do it. This made it less likely that there would be less likelihood of bad feeling against Afghan Talibans (ie, a blood feud by the dead man's family.) The Afghan Pushtun tribes are being kept in line by the threat of quick retaliation by "the Arabs." But it is unlikely that the Arabs can be destroyed or seriously weakened from the air. While many air power advocates believe the 1999 Kosovo war was won from the air, it was actually won by bribing the Russians to withdraw their support, including weapons shipments, for the Serbs. That, plus backing off on independence for Kosovo, got the Serbs out. But in Afghanistan, the Taliban have no nations as external allies. Trying to remove Taliban power from within means eventually battling "the Arabs."

Despite heavy bombing against Taliban positions around Mazar-i-Sharif,  Taliban troops defeated another Northern Alliance advance on the town. 

The US is finding the limits of its abilities to compile intelligence data. Afghanistan is a fairly big place, and the terrain is rugged. The Taliban have hidden much of their heavy military equipment, and even their last two or three MiG fighters. As the war grinds on, the US has been amazed at how much it is finding out (particularly with troops on the ground to do the kind of spotting that was not possible in the Kosovo War), and how much it probably still doesn't know. --Stephen V Cole

At least a hundred foreign reporters from at least a dozen nations are with the Northern Alliance. One group, reportedly 30 reporters including those from Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the US, India, Bulgaria, and other countries, wandered into Taliban lines and were captured about 20 Oct in Ostana village. Their fate is not known. {Guardian UK 22 Oct} --Stephen V Cole

The Pentagon reports that it has used about 2,000 bombs and missiles in the first ten days of the Afghan War, of which fewer than ten have hit "civilian areas".--Stephen V Cole

The navy quickly reached it's sustained rate of sorties (about a hundred a day) in the early days of the bombing campaign.
@ Oct 13: 17 targets, 15 Navy tactical planes (F-18s and F-14s), 10 bombers, 15 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

@ Oct 14: 7 targets (mostly Taliban II Corps near Kandahar), 15 Navy tactical planes, 10 bombers, some Tomahawk cruise missiles.

@ Oct 15: 12 targets, 90 Navy tactical p lanes, 10 bombers, and 5 Tomahawks.

@ Oct 16: 12 targets, 85 Navy tactical planes, five bombers, two AC-130s.

@ Oct 17: 5 targets, Navy tactical planes, bombers, AC-130s, and (for the first time) F-15Es.--Stephen V Cole

The Pentagon began using AC-130 gunships because the lumbering aircraft fly slower and are more steady, and they are better able to spot and confirm targets. --Stephen V Cole

With the anti-aircraft missile threat eliminated (except for the shoulder-fired types that cannot reach the altitudes where US planes fly), the US has been able to assign forward air controllers to battle sectors and feed them a steady supply of "shooter" aircraft with guided bombs. The Navy is using F-14s for this duty (as the back seater can handle the spotting), while the Air Force has its AC-130s function as their own forward air controllers. --Stephen V Cole


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