Afghanistan: December 3, 2001


Anti-Taliban Pushtun forces expect to take the Kandahar airport today. American troops are involved in the fighting as advisors, and U.S. marines are moving closer to Kandahar and may take part in the final battle for the city. 
Negotiations in Germany are making progress as members of the different factions (especially the Northern Alliance) realize that most Afghans are war weary and ready to oppose any faction that stalls the formation of a new government. There has been some agreement on allowing all factions to have fair representation and using an international peacekeeping force in the capital, Kabul. 

The U.S. government said there were some 2,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including over a thousand marines in southern Afghanistan. Most of the remaining troops are special forces, operating in small teams throughout the country. Several hundred special forces troops are in southern Afghanistan, blocking roads and passes from Kandahar to Pakistan. The special forces are also recruiting local Pushtuns with cash or other goodies to assist in making sure no terrorists escape from Kandahar. The Taliban inside Kandahar are using civilians as shields whenever possible. Hiding in mosques and residential areas, and storing supplies and weapons there as well, Taliban troops only come out in force to oppose the advance of enemy ground forces. But they often get blasted by the bombers anyway, as American troops working with anti-Taliban forces can quickly direct bombs on any Taliban target they can see. While some of the U.S. aircraft can spot and identify targets on the ground, it's difficult to tell Taliban, anti-Taliban and civilians apart from the air. So the preferred method is to use spotters on the ground. 

U.S. officials say they have not yet decided how to clear out any cave complexes where bin Laden and senior terrorist officials may be taking refuge. Getting some of these senior people alive would be useful in shutting down terrorist operations outside Afghanistan. Since World War II, it's been found that fighting in such man made cave complexes can be very bloody and that the easiest way to deal with them is to seal them. But this is difficult because man-made complexes have multiple exits and sometimes even "safe rooms" that contain a supply of oxygen to enable some to survive (for a while) smoke or lack of oxygen (from fires). One thing that's different today is that we now have technology that can map many of these caves from the air (because of temperature differences between cave air and outside air) and portable heat sensors for searching inside caves. There are also combat robots that can scout ahead of the troops, and wireless sensors that can be dropped along the way. These, combined with flooding the caves with tear gas make it possible to clear caves without losing a lot of the attacking troops. But it can still be a nasty process, and it's important to get inside these caves to collect documents and other evidence needed to shut down terrorist operations.


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