Afghanistan: November 1, 2001


Canada is deploying forces to support the War on Terror. Six of their 18 warships are deploying to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. The Canadians boast that their warships are the only non-US warships equipped and trained to join US carrier battle groups. They have only short-range missiles for air defense, but six extra ships would thicken up the defensive ring around a carrier. Three CC-130 Hercules transports, two CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol planes, and one CPC-150 Polaris strategic transport are to support the US and British forces, and commandoes from Canada's Joint Task Force Two (the anti-terrorist unit) are en route to the theater and expected to perform patrols inside Afghanistan.--Stephen V Cole

Nothing that individual smart bomb attacks were making much of a dent on Taliban positions in front of Mazar-i-Sharif,  B-52s made a carpet bombing attack on the Taliban lines. It was apparently only a few B-52s (which carry 30 tons of 500, 750 to 1,000 pound bombs each) This technique was first used during the Vietnam war, where the attacks were called ARCLIGHT. This was the one weapon the North Vietnamese feared the most. There was no warning (the B-52s were six or more miles up) and the effect was similar to that of a nuclear weapon. The hundreds of bomb landing together created an overpressure that would kill troops deep inside of bunkers. The explosions would also suck up all the oxygen, asphyxiating those not killed by the blast or overpressure. Those few North Vietnamese to survive were in a state of shock. This first attack was probably to test Taliban response. The Taliban use commercial walkie talkies to communicate and these can be overheard by Northern Alliance troops using similar equipment. Listening to these messages, plus air reconnaissance and viewing it from Northern Alliance lines,  allows us to determine what effect a larger attack will have on Taliban morale and what the reaction of troops not hit will be. A larger attack could take out a mile or more of their fortifications and allow a Northern Alliance advance. The attacks might also persuade other Taliban warlords to switch sides. These attacks have probably not been made earlier because of the enormous. Each B-52 normally carries 30 tons of bombs and three times as much weight in fuel. B-1s and B-2s carry similar loads. Stockpiles of bombs and fuel must be stockpiled at Diego Garcia (in the Indian ocean) before sustained bombing raids are carried out. All of these heavy bombers use radar based fire control that allows them to put all these bombs accurately on target. Typically, three heavy bombers flying in formation would drop 70-80 tons of bombs and devastate a square mile of terrain. In Vietnam (and Kuwait during the 1991 war), these attacks were used against troops well dug in. Because the Arclight attacks do not use smart bombs, friendly troops usually stay at least half a mile away from the target area to avoid stray bombs. This will require the Northern Alliance troops to pull back from their front line positions in some cases, just before the bombs hit. Since the attacks will probably come just before dawn, or in the middle of the night, this will not be noticed. But the Northern Alliance troops will have to advance immediately after the attacks to make the most of the damage to Taliban troops and fortifications. 

Afghanistan has thousands of tunnels, both natural and  man made. They have long been used for shelter, and to store stuff. Some are quite larger. But they are not invisible. Over the past decade, satellite sensors have become sensitive enough to detect them. Heat sensors take advantage of the fact that most tunnels maintain a constant temperature of 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Sensors in space or aircraft can pick up the temperature difference.  In Winter, occupied caves can also be identified from the use of cooking fires (or electricity generators). These sensors have apparently already been used over Afghanistan to identify caves (whether they are occupied or not.) The reason more UAVs are being sent to Afghanistan is because these unpiloted vehicles can fly for over 24 hours and detect Taliban troops moving from one cave to another to avoid bombing attacks. The US has deep penetration bombs that can destroy most caves. If the Taliban just use a cave for storing supplies, they can be detected by activity around the cave entrance. Again, UAVs are invaluable for this. Aircraft can only stay over one place for a few hours and satellites fly over several times a day, but cannot loiter. Another way to catch activity around caves (supplies being stored or removed) is with JSTARS aircraft. These four engine planes have a radar that can pick up vehicle activity on the ground and can fly for 12 hours per sortie (and then get relieved by another JSTARS).

US bombers destroyed the hydroelectric electricity plant for Kandahar. The dam that supplied the water was not destroyed. Ammunition and fuel dumps, as well as bridges around Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif. 

The US has opened two public information offices overseas so that Taliban press announcements can be more quickly countered. Heretofore, the Taliban made their proclamations about the fighting and it took hours before press officers in the United States could respond. Those hours made a difference, as the longer Taliban charges went unanswered, the more they were believed (even though many later turned out to be baseless.) The Taliban has also let more journalists into the country. But the journalists are not allowed to go where they want and are instead carefully taken around to things the Taliban want them to see. The Taliban claim that 1,500 civilians have been killed by the bombing so far, but there has been no one to confirm those claims. 

The US is hampered by a shortage of military, CIA and State Department people who can speak the languages of the area (Pushtun, Iranian and Turkish dialects.)  Many key people in the Northern Alliance speak English, and local translators are available. But the inability of Americans to speak the local languages limits their effectiveness. 


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