Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Noose tightening around Taliban
Update: The Taliban air defense network has either been disabled or essentially destroyed. It doesn't mean that missiles won't show up later -- they could have hidden some and might bring them out later. But essentially we can operate at will, both day and night, anywhere in the country, at high altitude.
At low altitude that is almost never the case because ... anti-aircraft fire and shoulder-launched weapons can show up anywhere. These things are particularly dangerous to low-flying aircraft, especially helicopters, which are being considered for ground operations.
Now one thing that happened over the weekend -- collateral damage is being reported. The Taliban are reporting up to 300 civilians killed. I think there are several significant things about that. One is that none of the civilians killed is being intentionally targeted. The World Trade Center was intentionally targeted. These civilians who are being killed -- whatever ends up being confirmed -- are inadvertent. They are either errors that take place -- in other words -- failure of the bombs, human failure in the case of having the wrong coordinates, possible software problems in an airplane that cause it to hit other than where you are aiming. Those are inadvertent things that happen.
The other thing is bad intelligence. In other words, you can say that this particular target is a military headquarters and you find that it's not a military headquarters at all. It happens to be a civilian site. So, all of those things are possibilities. But none of them is happening intentionally. Of course ... in World War II we killed thousands of civilians in military strikes. So although these things are terrible and they're a fact of war, and anytime you unleash the dogs of war, the law of unintended consequences takes over and civilians are unfortunately killed.
The scenes of children injured and houses destroyed tug at everyone's heart -- but you have to be very careful because world opinion, U.S. opinion -- this affects it, so we're trying to be very cautious. But it's a fact of life. The other rule about a military operation is that whatever can go wrong will go wrong, at the worst possible time, and it looks like some of that has already happened.
Strategy: We've put down the air defense system and now the strategy will be to move toward the fielded forces. We're going to be going after the Taliban that are deployed and Taliban headquarters. Some of them are deeply buried in bunkers so we'll be going after those. And it appears from the rhetoric that we're preparing for significant ground operations of U.S. forces, but that has not been confirmed by the Pentagon.
Also it's reported that the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt is proceeding either to or through the Suez Canal. This will be the fourth carrier battle group in the area. That's a lot of firepower. It indicates that something is contemplated for the future here, obviously, and you would expect that would be ground operations. That appears to be what's coming. Special Forces continue to operate from the standpoint of locating targets, getting intelligence, working with the Northern Alliance and other groups, working with defecting groups of the Taliban to find out where things are and what's being done so they can go against it. It's also been reported that we have forces at a base in Pakistan, that there've been protests there, even one person killed.
Anytime you put forces into an area you must be able to protect them. The host nation protects them, and then you also have to protect them. And once you put them in you must be able to resupply them -- food, water and munitions -- and you have to be able to reinforce them in case they come under attack. And then you have to be able to get them out if things really turn bad.
But the noose is tightening, if you will. You've got forces in Uzbekistan, you've got the airspace over all of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan. We're talking about bases in Tajikistan and now you have bases reported in Pakistan. So all of this means more and more places to put forces and airplanes and tighten the noose. Again, it's not a question of "if" we're going to beat these Taliban, it's a question of "when."
Now winter is coming and that's a big factor in ground operations and a big factor in air operations. It's nowhere near as big a factor in air operations anymore because we have things that go though the weather, we're not relying on laser-guided bombs, which require good weather. We can attack coordinates and we know something is there and go through the weather. Also there's more intelligence assets in the way of satellites being moved to the proper locations and some launched. And also other air assets moved into the area to listen and to watch.
Tactics: We will stay high and out of the realm of the shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. We have on-board systems that allow us to see the ground from high altitude and zoom in. We've spent billions of dollars acquiring those systems so we can stay out of the range of low altitude gunfire and still hit the targets we're after. Targets of opportunity will be popping up and we will have air patrols to hit those targets. For instance, if we see big truck convoys developing, we'll have the ability to hit it now that we have air superiority and supremacy.
U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.), a former NATO supreme commander, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Grange (ret.) and Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd (ret.) are serving as CNN military analysts during the war against terror. Their briefings will appear daily on CNN.com.
EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN is sensitive to reporting any information that could endanger lives or operations.
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