Afghanistan: March 30, 2002

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For thousands of years the caves have been used for shelter by shepherds, travelers and people fleeing unrest or bandits. The caves that are still standing will continue to serve that function, and Afghans for some years to come will continue to search for caves the troops did not find, in the hope of discovering loot. A lot of caves in some areas are probably also used to store ammunition, weapons and food. This is another traditional use of the caves. Wander around searching caves long enough, and you'll probably find some stocked with 20 year old munitions, stored by Afghans (who all were later killed) fighting the Russians in the 1980s. Fighting Afghans in caves is difficult because much of the mountainous area with caves lacks vegetation or trees. This means that attacking troops have little cover, save for a few rocks or depressions in the ground. Normally, this would give the lads in the cave an edge. But American troops have several new tools which make the cave defenders easier to clean out. The GPS guided bombs can often blow in the cave entrance, sealing in the defenders. American troops also have night vision devices, and a lot of training in their use. Sometimes the al Qaeda also have these night vision gear (these are commercial products), but if the cave defenders lack this equipment, American infantry can get in close and clear out the cave with grenades and rifles. Finding caves with ammunition and weapons in them is important, because as Spring arrives, anyone operating out in the hills will depend on these stores of munitions, and food, to keep going.

For the moment, the only law enforcement the government has outside Kabul are the U.S. special forces teams. Twice, the special forces have intervened to halt battles between warlords. The special forces are respected by the warlords, not just for the American soldiers fighting skills, but because the G.I.s can summon "death from above (B-52s)." But the special forces troops are relatively few (less than a thousand men) and spend most of their time getting to know various tribal leaders, and going out on combat operations against al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Using other U.S., British and Canadian troops for the combat operations allows the special forces to spend more time keeping an eye on the political situation out in the countryside. This is the main job of the special forces, although they are well trained to fight as needed. The special forces have earned the respect of the tribal leaders as much by meeting, talking, and drinking tea with them as by fighting along side them. The Afghans have a high opinion of their own fighting prowess, and tend to look down on other fighters until the foreigners demonstrate demonstrable battlefield skills. For this reason, the ISAF peacekeepers in Kabul are held in low esteem by the government and Taliban fighters (who are still present in small numbers all over the country.) It will take some impressive combat experience for the foreign troops (other than the special forces and commandos) to win some respect from armed Afghans. 

The U.S. is now holding 236 terrorist suspects in Afghanistan, plus about 300 in Cuba. At least 14 of these suspects were taken into U.S. custody in the last few days. Some are being captured by tribesmen and turned in, or arrested in Pakistan and sent back to Afghanistan. 

Severe earthquakes in the past week have caused some American troops and helicopters to be diverted to relief missions. This probably helps the military effort, as the word gets around that the Americans helped out and builds more good will out in the countryside. Afghanistan always has a lot of earthquakes, and the recent ones killed over two thousand people and made over 20,000 homeless.


 

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