Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Focus on Taliban front lines
Update: There's a new batch of airstrikes on forward positions facing the Northern Alliance, mainly near Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. There are also reports of strikes near Mazar-e Sharif, an area that seems more difficult to penetrate. Clearly, the strikes against the Taliban's fielded forces are starting to intensify.
We're looking at a couple of bombs dropped here and there -- it's by no means a massive employment of air power. The important thing is that it's 24-hour sustained bombing, with the emphasis shifted to the Taliban front lines. We can do it with bombers; we can do it with fighter jets; we can do it with AC-130s; we can do it at night.
Impact: With the combination of airstrikes and recent comments from U.S. officials, you will basically see the encouragement of opposition forces to move ahead. And I think several days of sustained strikes on the frontline positions will dramatically weaken the Taliban.
But the Northern Alliance will have to make its own decisions -- when it feels comfortable going forward with its equipment and numbers. Generally, you need many more people on offense than you need on defense, and the Northern Alliance forces are outnumbered in almost every case.
Tactics: Clearly, we must have people on the ground coordinating closely with the Northern Alliance to figure out where its forces are and where the Taliban are. We have been watching the Taliban troops for a long time. We're after their artillery pieces and tanks that support their infantry mainly. If you leave them only with armed infantry, that makes things much easier for their opposition.
If we do seize an air base such as Bagram, we could make it a base for special operations. Or we could make it a base for very large deployments of forces or a base for humanitarian airlifts. The point is that the Taliban have to worry about us taking a base.
Strategy: I think you will see a flurry of diplomatic activity in the next two weeks, both through the United Nations and former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah in Rome to try to cobble together this coalition government.
It's important to pay attention to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's remarks when he said the Northern Alliance will play a role but cannot be the major part of the coalition government in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance has its own agenda and its own desire for power, but I think that their leaders clearly understand that U.S. support is contingent upon their cooperation in being part of a true coalition.
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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