Afghanistan: December 14, 2001

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U.S. marines moved into the airport outside Kandahar, taking control of the bombed out facility and began getting it ready for American military flights.

The fighting in the Tora Bora region continues. Three separate groups of anti-Taliban Afghans are battling al Qaeda forces in the Tora Bora mountains. The Afghans are no longer willing to negotiate with al Qaeda troops. Over a hundred British SAS commandos and U.S. special forces troops are involved in the action, mainly calling in air strikes, but also getting into the infantry fighting at times. The special forces often have to get right up front with the Afghan troops closest to the al Qaeda positions to call in the smart bombs. The technique of locating an al Qaeda position, dropping a 2000 pound bomb on it, then advancing 500 or more meters (the minimum safety distance to avoid injury from the blast) to clear out any survivors, is steadily driving the al Qaeda troops back. The resistance is determined, and that, coupled with information from radio intercepts and eyewitness reports, indicates that Osama bin Laden is still in the area. Yesterday, Afghans captured a cave that had evidence that bin Laden had been there. The Afghans have one determined group of al Qaeda fighters surrounded on a ridge high up in the White mountains and believe bin Laden is among them. Escape would be difficult. While Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan are a few days walk through the mountains, the border area is heavily patrolled on the ground and from the air. On the Pakistan side, there are some 4,000 Pakistani troops backed by helicopters. On the Afghan side, U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and special forces patrols on the ground, plus Afghans guarding key passes, make movement difficult. Not everyone in the refugee camps is pro-Taliban, or pro-bin Laden. Escape means getting to the Pakistan coast, where enough money can get you smuggled out of Pakistan. That's if the ship gets past the U.S. Navy ships intercepting and searching ships off the coast. But the coast, especially in Baluchistan, is a thousand kilometers to the south.

There are several dozen key al Qaeda leaders and terrorists that are being sought. Some may have already made their way to neighboring countries. Some may be among the 6,000 prisoners the Northern Alliance is holding. 

The Northern Alliance says it is willing to tolerate a thousand UN peacekeepers in Kabul, but the British led, multinational, force is expected to consist of 5-6,000 troops. These men will start arriving before the end of the month. 

A B-1B bomber went down in the Indian ocean. The crew ejected and survived, reporting multiple technical problems brought the aircraft down. This makes nine B-1s that have crashed in the last twenty years. Unlike the B-52, which is a simpler, subsonic warplane, the B-1 is a hotrod and has a lot more things that can go wrong. 

Making life more difficult for the al Qaeda fighters is the regular use of the AC-130 gunships. These aircraft fly low and use powerful sensors to detect activity on the ground. 

Independent minded warlords continue to flex their muscles throughout the country. Some of these guys are Taliban, others are simply not aligned with anyone. This makes travel around the country, at least on the ground, dangerous, or expensive (as each different group extracts a "travel tax" when you pass through their turf.) The Taliban groups are those warlords, and their fighters, who generally agreed with much of the Taliban philosophy. But most of the disputes are about power and control of land. Peace won't return to Afghanistan until the warlords can be brought under control. The Taliban did this with brute force, and the assent of much of the population because the Taliban brought peace to the country for the first time in 15 years. 

The U.S. has completed dropping it's supply of individual food rations. Some 2.4 million packets were dropped from the air, each ration containing a nutritionally balanced meal. An air force sergeant figured out a way to drop the rations so that they came down individually, doing no damage if they hit people or structures. 

The U.S. is now offering rewards, totaling ten million dollars, for the capture of key Taliban leaders.


 

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