Afghanistan: March 23, 2002

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The new (right wing) Danish government has not only sent 100 special forces into combat in Afghanistan, and a company of 120 explosives removal experts to join the German engineer battalion serving with the peacekeeping force in Kabul, but has allocated another $88 million over the next two years to cover such deployments and other international missions.---Stephen V Cole

With Spring arriving in southern Afghanistan, people are beginning to come out of their Winter hibernation to tend crops and herds. People are traveling more, which means that any al Qaeda hiding out in remote villages are more likely to be discussed in market towns, or wherever people from isolated villages congregate. The special forces informant network will pick up this information, and it will result in troop laden helicopters landing in isolated valleys, followed by gun battles. But not all al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who have stayed inside all Winter, as most Afghans do, will stay put. Already, small groups of armed men have been detected moving around. These groups have already made some attacks on Americans and armed Afghans. Russian veterans of their Afghan war warn that this is where the fighting gets frustrating. But maybe not. There were two kinds of Russian veterans of Afghanistan. The majority were regular Red Army troops and most frequently served as targets for small groups of Afghans. The other groups of veterans belonged to the Spetznaz commandos and air assault troops. These guys, similar to our rangers, commandos and airmobile troops, took the battle to the Afghans, and usually won. These veterans recognize that all the American combat troops in Afghanistan are equivalent to their Spetznaz or airmobile commandos. The Russian vets wish they had the GPS bombs, better airborne sensors and the wider support among Afghans. 

American troops have the ability to turn each al Qaeda attack into an ambush. American night vision gear and airborne sensors can see the al Qaeda coming and, more importantly, track them when they are going. Already, several al Qaeda attacks on American bases have resulted in heavy al Qaeda casualties as American troops and aircraft quickly responded. American troops have long trained hard at night, using their superior technology to, as the soldiers like to out it, "own the night." While it would be preferable to have al Qaeda concentrate and fight in large groups as they did at Tora Bora and outside Gardez, the enemy isn't stupid. Next they will try operating in small groups. If that doesn't work, and it probably won't, the survivors will most likely make for Pakistan, where many Taliban have taken refuge and are attempting to rebuild their organization for a future return to Afghanistan. 

The areas cleared of al Qaeda outside Gardez have revealed a windfall of documents and equipment. Among the items found was a bomb making shop and a laboratory apparently used to develop chemical and biological weapons. A laboratory in this part of the world is not all that unusual; there are many of them in the region devoted to processing poppy plants into drugs. Producing morphine and heroin from poppy plants requires equipment that can also be used to create more deadly substances. 

Afghans have proven true to their long mercenary tradition. Most Afghans are willing to tolerate the presence of American troops as long as we don't arrive empty handed. Various forms of foreign aid, as well as cash in hand for supplying troops, al Qaeda prisoners (dead or alive) and al Qaeda documents and equipment, are all readily accepted. Hundreds of American civil affairs troops are in the field identifying and supervising aid programs. This makes more Afghans less likely to take up arms against Americans, and more likely to share the local gossip about al Qaeda and Taliban. Although the civil affairs are provided protection by the (usually heavily armed) Afghans they are working with, these guys will still be prime targets for roving bands of al Qaeda and Taliban. The civil affairs troops are not the highly trained fighters the special forces are. Just as the Afghans learned to avoid the Soviet Spetznaz during the 1980s, the Coalition commandos and special forces are avoided this time around. But any other armed foreigners will get a trial by fire to see if they must be avoided, or preyed upon. 

Building the new Afghan army is slow going. Only one or two brigades (4-5,000 men) will be trained and ready for action this year. This is not enough to deal with any troublesome warlords, and foreign nations are still reluctant to supply more troops for peacekeeping. The arrival of 1,700 British marines will increase the number of non-peacekeeper combat troops to about 5,000. This force, plus dozens of special forces teams working with the various tribes, is keeping the peace so far. But so far, the special forces relationships with locals is proving to be the most important peacekeeping asset.

 

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