Afghanistan: March 4, 2002


: The USAF dropped two 2,000-pound bombs fitted with experimental "thermobaric" BLU-118B warheads designed to send a blast of pressure and incinerating heat into deep caves. A small number of these new weapons were rushed to Afghanistan after a successful test in Nevada in mid-December, and the 2 March 2002 mission marked the first time they were used in combat. The Russians have successfully used "thermobaric" LAWs and rockets against the mujihadeen in Chechnya. 

A typical thermobaric warhead utilizes an advanced form of the fuel-air explosive concept, where the warhead's napalm-like liquid contents are spread as aerosol droplets on impact and then ignited to create a rapidly-formed, high-pressure blast wave. Targets are 'neutralized' three waves: by the blast wave, the rapid depletion of oxygen and the extreme heat. It's the next best thing to a pocket nuke. - Adam Geibel

About 300 bombs have been dropped outside Gardez in the past three days. The problem with the fighting in the mountains outside Gardez is that the forested and mountainous terrain makes it easy to ambush advancing forces. So far, one American and five Afghan troops have been killed in such ambushes, and a dozen or so injured. The enemy troops know that if they are spotted, and do not move quickly, they will get bombed. So they move. But the enemy troops do have camps where they store food and other supplies. If these can be spotted, they can be bombed. Airborne heat sensors can spot cooking and heating fires, even it they are deep in caves. But there are often cave complexes with many exist and many places to hide inside. The bombs cannot always find a target. 

The battle against 400 or so al Qaeda fighters in Paktia province continues, although the ground fighting has died down. In addition to about a hundred U.S. troops and about a thousand Afghans, small numbers of soldiers from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Norway are also involved. The fighting is taking place outside Gardez, an area long used by al Qaeda, Afghan smugglers and drug gangs. Lots of caves and hiding places. U.S. intelligence has been watching the area from the air and the ground for months, trying to sort out who is who up there. On the ground, special forces and CIA personnel have been getting to know the locals, which is not easy. A lot of illegal activity goes on in this border area, and Americans have to spread around a lot of money and good will to loosen tongues. Many local gunmen have been hired (at about $200 a month) to operate against remaining Taliban and al Qaeda fighters still in the area. 

Afghan forces in neighboring Logar province are also battling an al Qaeda/Taliban force of under a thousand men. The Taliban and al Qaeda have been gathering along the border and trying to get some resistance going against the Americans. This has not been easy. Several hundred U.S. Civil Affairs troops have been sent into Afghanistan to help the civilian population and make any return to Taliban rule seem much less attractive. Nevertheless, pro-Taliban pamphlets and posters have been appearing in southern Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border.


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