Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Capabilities in the military campaign
Major General Donald Shepperd (USAF, retired) is a military analyst for CNN. Prior to retirement, Shepperd led the Air National Guard, commanding over 110,000 personnel, 1400 aircraft, 88 flying units, and 250 support units. He was the architect of the "Cyber Guard," a program that brought the Air National Guard online.
CNN: Good day General Don Shepperd. Welcome to CNN.com Newsroom and thank you for being with us today.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD: A pleasure to be here, in an exciting and difficult time for our nation.
CNN: General Sheppard, can you explain to us the significance of the strikes this week in the Mazar-e Sharif area?
SHEPPERD: Yes, there are two areas in Afghanistan that are key at the present time. Mazar-e Sharif is a major area of Taliban activity, and a major area of resupply for Taliban forces, from Uzbekistan and other areas through the black market and this type of means. The idea of Mazar-e Sharif is to cut off methods of supplies. Kabal is equally significant from a symbolic standpoint. It is, of course, the capital of Afghanistan, and also has significant numbers of Taliban troops massed between Kabul and Bagram, which is roughly 20 miles north of Kabul. The strikes in the past week have switched from fixed targets, such as air defense and supply depots, to front line troops, many of them concentrated in the Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul areas. We expect to see some ground activity of some type certainly within the next few weeks, if not the next few days.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: First, thank you and all the armed forces for protecting us here at home. Question: How much groundfire or surface-to-air missile resistance are our heroic pilots experiencing?
SHEPPERD: The fixed surface-to-air missile sites have essentially been destroyed, although there may be some left that could pop up from time to time. The high altitude radar missile network has been essentially destroyed. The low altitude threat remains significant, and that is composed of AAA, anti aircraft artillery, and shoulder fired missiles, also called MANPADS, Man Portable Air Defense System. These are infrared shoulder fired missiles, and the threat from MANPADS and AAA will never go away, and is at times intense if the airplanes operate at low altitude. Therefore, they try to remain at medium or high altitudes, whenever possible.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Would we put jets at a forwarding base? I think that would be too dangerous.
SHEPPERD: There's no need to put jets at a forwarding base at the present time. We can operate from carriers. On the other hand, we can always establish new bases in nations of the area who have granted us permission for combat basing. Right now, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have allowed us to use bases for humanitarian and resupply, and we do not need any further forward combat basing, because we have the ability to strike from carriers, and also from the United States.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why aren't we bombing poppy fields where money is?
SHEPPERD: The poppy fields are definitely a source of money for the Taliban. I am certain that at some point the drug trade will be addressed, but our first efforts are to be directed against the Taliban military forces, and they will be left to wonder what we will do later.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: I would like to ask the General if he believes the upcoming winter will make it any harder for the US troops in Afghanistan.
SHEPPERD: It makes it harder for both U.S. and Taliban forces. No question, winter is difficult. But our troops and equipment are designed and trained for winter operations. In some cases, winter is a friend. It makes it easier to track people, and heat sources show up better against white snow. Winter is a blessing and a curse. One thing it does that makes military operations difficult is that it brings thick clouds. Thick clouds make it difficult for us to strike infra-red targets through the clouds. Therefore, we have satellite-guided weapons that allow us to do that even in winter weather.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What can done to protect civilians who have had Taliban weaponry parked by their houses?
SHEPPERD: We are very mindful of collateral damage. We carefully select the size of the weapon and run-in hittings of the attacking aircraft. However, some collateral damage occurs in every war, and it is inevitable. We are clearly not giving sanctuary to weapons that are parked in populated areas, because we have precision-guided munitions that can take them out with minimal collateral damage.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: General Shepperd, is the C-5 going to be used in any missions overseas?
SHEPPERD: The C-5 is our largest cargo airplane. It carries more tonnage, more equipment, more supplies, more people, than any other military aircraft. It is already in use, and will be used whenever and wherever appropriate, as long as the receiving base can accommodate such a large aircraft.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How many fronts is the U.S. capable of fighting on?
SHEPPERD: That is a difficult question. We are clearly conducting this war worldwide, and as the Secretary of Defense has said, some of it will be visible, some invisible. We are doing many things worldwide at the present time that are not seen by the American public, and we are capable of conducting operations in many places. However, Afghanistan is one half way around the world, and it is a difficult place to fight, demanding a great deal of care, equipment and resupply.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: General, I've heard that 42,000 troops have been stationed near or around Afghanistan. Can you confirm this?
SHEPPERD: No, I can't confirm this. The Pentagon is the one that announces the numbers of troops, and it depends on what you count. If you count all the people on ships and supporting bases in the area, it could perhaps reach those numbers, but we'll let the Pentagon confirm those numbers, rather than CNN.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: General...where do you see the war going after Afghanistan?
SHEPPERD: The obvious question is: are we going to hit Iraq next? The president and secretary of defense have been careful to not announce next steps, buy they've said the war will be carried to terrorists and those who support them, wherever they are around the world. So, the point is, it will be at a time and place of our choosing, but it will be relentless and widespread, and anyone involved in or supporting terrorism is a likely target.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: General, does the U.S. even know if bin Laden is in Afghanistan?
SHEPPERD: Everything I read and hear, we suspect he is still in Afghanistan, and we are looking for him continually. But until intelligence resources announce where he is, it's difficult for us to guess.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: General, the media appear one step away from labeling our forces as "baby killers"...what effect do you feel the media has on public opinion and how should it be addressed?
SHEPPERD: This is always a difficult subject in any war. The killing of innocent civilians is tragic in war, and it was also tragic in the World Trade Center. I do not see that the media is labeling the U.S. Forces as baby killers, however, they will report instances of errant bombs and civilian deaths. That is a fact of life in the media age, and we must be mindful of that as we attempt to maintain United States and world support in this war.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Good afternoon Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd. I get the impression that we are only using a small percentage of the advanced technology that we could try out. Is that your view, and how do you see the use of that technology unfold if the Taliban continue to resist these relatively friendly advances of ours?
SHEPPERD: You are correct. We're only using a small fraction of our forces. Over time, we'll bring more to bear, but up to now, there's been no reason to use large numbers. That could change. There are reports the U.S. will be sending the Global Hawk UAV, in addition, it has been reported that the Jaystars command and control aircraft is being deployed. This is an example of increasing technology being moved to the area, and used when and where needed. There will be no constraints.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What type of intelligence is the U.S. using?
SHEPPERD: CNN wants to be very careful speculating on any equipment being used, unless the Department of Defense announces the fact. However, it is clear that signals intelligence of all types are an important part of modern warfare, and could be employed in Afghanistan.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: If the training camps are wiped out, do you think al Qaeda could be large enough to make other secret training camps?
SHEPPERD: Of course. It is important to wipe out their training camps. At the same time, they'll establish new ones, move to new areas, and we'll need to hit the new areas.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Can you shed some light on some of the missions Special Forces soldiers will play in the months ahead other than direct action missions?
SHEPPERD: The Special Forces are designed to establish liaison, to gather intelligence, to do reconnaissance, to go on specific hunt-and-snatch missions, and other low visibility and clandestine military efforts. It is likely they will be engaged in all of those throughout the conflict.
CNN: Do you have any closing comments for us today?
SHEPPERD: Frustration is setting in in many areas. It is important to realize it is far too early to see major effects of any of these military actions we have seen so far. Military action combined with cutting off financial support, worldwide law enforcement, and diplomacy, is what will bring the Taliban and other terrorists to their knees. This will be a long and relentless effort, and it takes time, patience, and the support and understanding of the American people. All of this will be tested.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today, General Don Shepperd.
SHEPPERD: Thank you very much.
General Shepperd joined CNN.com Newsroom via telephone from CNN Bureau in Washington, DC. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Friday, November 2, 2001.
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