Posted by Doubter on October 11, 2001 at 19:20:13:
How Hi-Tech Forces Find Men in a Cave
Washington started its campaign with night-time air strikes, aimed especially at eliminating the slight threat posed by the ruling Taliban's aging anti-aircraft defenses -- a few missiles and anti-aircraft guns that could not touch fast, high-flying aircraft.
The U.S. planes are now operating around the clock but the frequency with which they return to base with bombs and missiles unused indicates they are quickly running out of suitable "targets of opportunity" to hit.
"Even today half the aircraft are coming back with a full load of weapons and ammunition," Major General Rashid Qureshi, the Pakistan government spokesman, said to Reuters. "There are no targets there. There is no infrastructure in Afghanistan -- there is hardly a road."
Afghanistan was already largely rubble after more than two decades of war and the Taliban military equipment consists of perhaps a few hundred Soviet-era tanks and dozens of aircraft -- many unusable even before the U.S. and British attacks aimed for those that were.
The United States cannot destroy infrastructure: most cities have no electricity already and the economy is little more than subsistence. The Taliban would care little about extra suffering of the public: they had been taking steps even before this war to force out the foreign aid organizations that provide most humanitarian services.
SEARCHING FOR TARGETS
The U.S. planes prowl the skies looking for troop concentrations, but in a land where a military force is a group of men with AK-47 assault rifles stuffed in the back of a Japanese pickup truck there are few army units that a U.S. soldier would recognized as such.
Targets also include decrepit buildings -- there are few other kinds left in Afghanistan -- used by the Taliban or the foreign militants linked to Osama bin Laden, the man accused by Washington of masterminding the September 11 attack on the United States.
"We believe we are able to carry out strikes more or less round the clock, as we wish," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington. The damage inflicted had created "conditions necessary to conduct a sustained campaign to root out terrorists."
But there has been no sign of success against individuals such as bin Laden or Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive head of the Taliban. Both have matched the increase in U.S. bombing with an increase in statements of defiance.
"If they go in with attack helicopters it should be more effective, it should get the individuals they want -- if they've already found out where they're located," said Qadir, who has specialized in political analysis since leaving the Pakistani armed forces.
"But if they don't know where they're located what can they do?" Qadir said. "From the way they are going about this they don't seem to know where they are. If they had known they should have been able to get someone."
A PLACE TO HIDE
Afghanistan is not an easy place to find someone, especially if bin Laden has constructed underground hiding places or is using the caves found everywhere in the largely mountainous country.
Afghanistan is an arid country of scorching summers and frigid winters. Regions like Dasht-i-Margo -- the Desert of Death -- alternate with mountains where it can take days to go a straight-line distance of a few kilometers.
Kandahar, Omar's base city in southern Afghanistan, is on flat, exposed ground, but the key figures sought by U.S. forces are probably in the maze of eroded mountains with their steep, inaccessible valleys.
U.S. bombers have acknowledged dropping some of their huge weapons designed to rip into bunkers, or caves -- but on Taliban troops rather than a hideout of the Taliban leaders or bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Washington's best hope would be for other Afghans to help in the search, but bin Laden and Omar are likely to be in areas of solidly Pashtun tribesmen who have provided the backbone of the Taliban -- far from regions with ethnic minorities where defections could be expected.
Governments of Muslim countries worry about domestic opposition to the U.S. campaign and hope it will soon be over -- Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf said the campaign would be "short, sharp." There is no indication from Washington or London of the same urgency.
"I don't know who told the Pakistani president that," Bush brushed aside someone asking about Musharraf's view. "Generally, you know, we don't talk about military plans."
In fact, U.S. officials caution against expecting any early move to the use of helicopters and ground troops that are probably necessary to root out individuals. Washington prefers to stick for now to the relatively risk-free use of fixed-wing aircraft.
"On the military side it doesn't seem to be getting anywhere. Osama bin Laden is as loud as ever, and so is Mullah Omar," said Qadir. "If the aim is to bring the Taliban government down...it will succeed. But that doesn't solve the war against terrorism.
"In military parlance you say 'the unification of the aim' -- you have an aim in mind and then everything works toward achieving that aim," said the former brigadier. "But I don't know what their aim is."