Afghanistan: October 21, 2001

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Notes On The War

@ The military is divided on the fate of bin Laden. Half hope he has already been killed in a cave collapse where the body won't be found, allowing the bombing and upcoming ground operations to go forward. The other half hope he isn't found until after the ground forces go in and he dies in a last stand more reminiscent of the Spartans at Thermopylae than the Texans at the Alamo.

@ While billions have been raised for relief and rebuilding, a handful of
Americans have been mailing checks to the Pentagon and CIA, offering the money to buy ammunition and pay for the war. --Stephen V Cole

The emphasis in the war is on information; primarily who is working with the Taliban and bin Laden and where they are (or where they tend to go). Up to a hundred warplanes (including some electronic warfare, tanker and recon aircraft) hit Afghanistan today, mainly going after targets suspected to be Taliban or terrorist units, equipment or facilities. For the first time, helicopter gunships were seen attacking targets in Kabul. There was very little anti-aircraft fire, indicating that the Taliban were low on ammo, anti-aircraft guns, or both. The gunships can operate at night and in bad weather and carry Hellfire for pinpoint attacks on buildings or vehicles (as the Israelis have used them to kill terrorists driving along roads or sitting inside buildings.)

The war of words is also showing progress. Weeks of talks with Afghan leaders in Pakistani refugee camps has moved into Afghanistan itself. Secretary of State Powell showed how far this was going when he announced last week (several times) that there was a place for moderate Taliban groups in a new government. These Taliban moderates are Pushtun tribes and towns that do not agree with everything the hard line Taliban (who have increasingly monopolized power) have done. Money and humanitarian aid play a large role in the talks, as do assurances that the bin Laden organization (which dominates the Taliban leadership) will be taken out. Several Taliban leaders have switched sides, and brought thousands of armed men with them. This trend is expected to continue, especially as the US delivers more food and other goodies.

The US ranger raid outside Kandahar yesterday was going after an airbase and a command center (also used as one of  Taliban leader Mohammed Omar's homes.) The command center was largely empty, but some documents were taken, weapons destroyed and some Taliban soldiers killed. The rangers had a video crew along to record the event. The rangers parachuted in, and were picked up by helicopter to get out.

In the north, the fighting around Mazar-i-Sharif has increased. The Taliban have some of their best troops there, including portions of the bin Laden controlled 55th brigade. Many Taliban trucks and armored vehicles are in the area, making it a prime target for air strikes. Some 5-10,000 Taliban troops face over 10,000 Northern Alliance fighters. Defections from the Taliban to the Northern Alliance continue. The Afghan style of fighting does not stress big, head on attacks and high casualties. The Northern Alliance is waiting on US warplanes to bomb the Taliban hard enough so that the Northern Alliance can move into the city and it's airport with minimal casualties. 

 

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