Afghanistan: December 18, 2001

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The US has dropped 12,000 bombs in Afghanistan, which include 4,800 dumb bombs, 4,600 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, more than 2,500 laser-guided bombs, and some cruise missiles. While more than two JDAMs have gone off target, only the two most reported incidents caused American casualties. JDAM is a gravity bomb with fins that is guided by GPS; it glides to the target. Each JDAM kit costs $20,000. The Air Force had 10,000 JDAMs when the war started, and ordered 434 more on 31 October and 600 more on 5 November.--Stephen V Cole

The new governor of Kandahar province has agreed to send out search parties to find Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It took more American diplomacy (and cash) to set this in motion. Omar and the other Taliban leaders have tribal links in the Kandahar area. Going after these fellows risks long term feuds in the area. But the money helps, as a bounty provides incentives to go after someone and deal with the subsequent problems. Bounties have also been offered for bringing in al Qaeda members. This is an easier sell, as most al Qaeda are non-Afghans, or from other parts of Afghanistan. The al Qaeda are also much more disliked than the Taliban. Even so, many Taliban leaders and al Qaeda fighters have been able to bribe their Afghan captors to set them free. American money has now prompted Afghans to go after these guys again. Some of the al Qaeda Arabs come from families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen that are wealthy enough to ransom their wayward kin. There are Afghans with satellite phones willing to broker these deals, for a fee. The interim Afghanistan government says it will hang Omar when they catch him, which may indicate Omar is broke, or simply that he had better have a lot of cash available. U.S. intelligence can overhear radio and satellite phone conversations in Afghanistan, and this will no doubt make some of the bidding for prisoners more complex. Some interesting stories are going to come out of this. 

The U.S. admits to having five al Qaeda men in custody (including an American and an Australian), but may have more by now. Some of the al Qaeda held by the Afghans are being questioned by military and CIA interrogators. 

Two low flying C-130 transports in southern Afghanistan reported seeing portable surface to air missiles fired at them (that turned out to be flashes from rifles being fired to celebrate the end of Ramadan.) The attacks caused no damage. News reports that the SAMs were Stingers is always suspect, as the Stinger battery has a shelf life of 5-10 years, and at the end of that period the missile may appear to be good, but performance will be very erratic. Since the last Stinger was handed out to Afghans (fighting Russians) in 1987, the batteries (a special design) are dead, or so close to it that the Stinger is essentially useless. 

Afghans and special forces are searching the forests and caves of the Tora Bora for al Quada. The al Qaeda no longer try to fight from caves, noting that this quickly brings down a one ton bomb, that either kills them or traps them in the cave. The al Qaeda survivors of the Tora Bora fighting are now largely moving across the forested mountains towards Pakistan. U.S. special forces are also on the Pakistani side of the border coordinating operations with the Pakistani brigade guarding the Afghan border. It is estimated that there were as many as 2,000 al Qaeda members in the Tora Bora region a few weeks ago. Some have slipped away, others are sealed in caves that had their entrances completely blown closed by bombs. Its thought that as many as 500 are fleeing, with perhaps 700 dead from the fighting. Most of the dead are thought to be blown to bits or sealed in damaged caves. Bin Laden is believed to be out in the mountains with the remnants of his al Qaeda troops. Fighting, and an occasional bomb, can be heard further up in the White mountains. U.S. commandos and some Afghans are chasing the al Qaeda towards the Pakistan border. 

The caves that were already hit are being searched for bodies. Attempts will be made to identify the bodies and discover which known al Qaeda members have been killed (and no longer have to be sought around the world.) Some 66 al Qaeda members have been captured, mainly by Afghans, in the Tora Bora area. Special forces are negotiating with the Afghans to get custody of the captured al Qaeda. In turn, the al Qaeda are pleading with the Afghans not to turn them over to the Americans. In the last few weeks, some Taliban and al Qaeda leaders have managed to get away by bribing the Afghans pursuing them. As a result, al Qaeda members can be found all over Afghanistan, although most of these fugitives are headed for Pakistan. In the last few days, some 80 al Qaeda members were picked up around Kandahar. 

The interim Afghan government has not decided on what kind of peacekeeping force it would allow. Britain, which is to command the force, has 1500 men on the alert for movement to Afghanistan, along with at least 3,500 other peacekeepers. At the moment, the Afghans want no more than a thousand peacekeepers. This would leave only enough troops to guard their own camp (usually about a third of the troops are used for their own protection) and the rest might be able to provide security for, say, the air ports at Kabul and Kandahar. There would be no troops left to do any real peacekeeping. A force of 5,000 would allow more air ports to be guarded (if only to reduce theft) and provide a reserve to deal with any warlord that got out of control. 

 

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