Afghanistan: February 22, 2002


US (and other) Special Forces continue to operate in Afghanistan, seeking the last vestiges of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and expect to continue these operations throughout this year. These are a new kind of operation, done without even telling the new Afghan government and without the support of any Afghan warlords or mercenaries. The US is now convinced that at least some of the Afghans they hired to attack the Tora Bora cave complex took bribes to help senior al Qaeda officials (possibly including Osama bin Laden) out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan. The operations are having considerable, if unannounced, success. Some missions involve very small teams while others have been the largest special forces missions since Vietnam. In many cases, small teams scout an area, spot caves or camps, and observe them for several days gathering information before larger units are called in for a final assault. The caves and camps often contain abandoned weapons, computers, cell phones, and drugs. (Some captured communications equipment has been used to listen in on other al Qaeda cells, and some al Qaeda groups have been tricked into believing they are speaking, in Arabic, to their comrades.) Some "escape kits" including cash and fake Pakistani passports have been found, leaving the soldiers to wonder why the al Qaeda leaders who intended to use them never came back for them. Some caves are still occupied and prisoners are being interrogated, although most prisoners insist that they are simply farmers who gathered up weapons abandoned by the real terrorists who have long since fled.

Intelligence is used to determine what areas for the special operations units to investigate. The problem is that human intelligence is unreliable (the botched Ranger raid resulted from a warlord insisting, falsely, that his rival in the next valley was part of al Qaeda) and satellite or aviation intelligence has its limits. While the US has a serious shortage of people who speak Afghan languages, it has at least some who speak Arabic (the language used by al Qaeda) and a few who speak Pashtu (the language spoken by Taliban).--Stephen V Cole




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