Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Protecting Northern Alliance advances
Update: What we saw was the first real U.S. bombing of the front lines where the Taliban forces fight against the Northern Alliance. A couple of things are very important about that. Bombing the front lines weakens the Taliban but also protects the alliance. As the opposition forces advance, they stretch out their resupply lines, and they take territory that has to be defended and held. At the same time they are looking to take the city of Mazar-e Sharif.
There is an imbalance in size between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. The Taliban reportedly has about 40,000 to 50,000 troops, while the alliance has about 10,000 to 15,000. Those Northern Alliance forces can get stretched pretty thin as they take more territory. They are a small force in a large area, especially when you consider Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul. They have got to be very careful -- just because we are flying missions over the front lines doesn't mean it will be easy for the Northern Alliance to push forward.
Tactics: Advancing 25 to 30 miles while air power is attacking the front lines sounds relatively easy, but remember the area over which they are advancing is just about like a World War I battlefield. It's filled with trenches, tunnels and minefields. So just because we are attacking those frontline forces, it doesn't mean it will be easy for the Northern Alliance to sweep through there.
Strategy: Our goals now are to protect the frontline troops, to weaken the Taliban and make the Northern Alliance and other opposition forces stronger while working to put together a diplomatic solution to be installed in Kabul. Reports are that the Northern Alliance has been encouraged not to take the capital city of Kabul until that diplomatic solution is in place.
I do think that the new story emerging now is the race toward a diplomatic solution. There has been talk about the difficulty of fighting during the winter in Afghanistan. Winter does slow things down, but we do have the capability to strike in the winter.
Also the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is coming up on November 17. Of course, that has to be a consideration. Remember that we stopped our air attacks against fixed targets over the Muslim holy day on Friday, but we did continue against emerging targets. It indicates to me that we do not have any intention of stopping the air activity. We'll do it if we think we need to do it, whether itís a Muslim holy day or the month of Ramadan. I do think that everyone would like to see this brought to a political solution as soon as possible.
Impact: Now the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the hunt for al Qaeda will go on for a long period of time. Just because you establish a coalition government in Kabul does not mean al Qaeda and the Arabs that have invaded the country are gone. Finding them and getting them out of that country is going to take a long time and will not be easy.
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.
EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN is sensitive to reporting any information that could endanger lives or operations.
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