Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Taliban not an easy target
Update: The eighth day of the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan brings reports of the Taliban retreating to caves and attempting to blend in with residents of large cities. Meanwhile, a report that U.S. forces passed on an opportunity to kill Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar stirs the potential for criticism at home as the appearance on mounting Afghan civilian casualties may generate reproof in the world arena.
Impact: [The Taliban] are reportedly melding into their mountain caves and melding with the population and taking their arms with them. They are not going to provide big targets out there. The civilian casualties which occur play right into their hands. It is a matter of concern that over time can sap the resolution of the American people and the world community. It enrages the population within Afghanistan. It makes them more sympathetic to the Taliban. It affects the image of the United States abroad.
Strategy: No change in strategy as a result of what happened with the civilians. We will continue to try to seek military targets, and we'll try to be careful and mindful of civilian casualties because of the effects of it on our own opinion and world opinion. All of the Taliban are perhaps despised in many places, including within Afghanistan. What you want to do is weaken them so that the Northern Alliance and other factions can become stronger and eventually take over. And if all of those are aligned against United States action [because of civilian casualties], it makes it much more difficult.
We had intelligence that Omar was in a particular building. His security was outside. And the decision was made not to hit it because the CENTCOM commander wanted to be sure that he was hitting the right target and not doing bad collateral damage. Totally understandable. The first day of the war, the last thing you want to do is have a huge problem with civilian causalities if you're not absolutely certain that the person you are after is there.
Whether or not the right decision was made was 20-20 [hindsight]. You're damned if you don't hit the targets, you're damned if you do. And it's a messy business, war is.
Tactics: This is only day eight of a long, long campaign. It may last several years. So it's important not to lose sight that this is against terrorism and it's worldwide, not just in Afghanistan and it's not just Omar and [Osama] bin Laden. It's against many, many factions. So this is going to take a long time to play out.
U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark (retired), a former NATO supreme commander; U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Grange (retired); and Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd (retired) are serving as CNN military analysts during the war against terror. Their briefings will appear daily on CNN.com.
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