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Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Diplomacy plus more bombs

Don Shepperd is a retired U.S. Air Force major general and military analyst for CNN.  

Update: The air campaign's major focus of late has been the shift from fixed targets to a move against al Qaeda and Taliban forces, especially around Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif. There will be a sustained air campaign against those forces until anti-Taliban troops can take control of them. It may be a long process.

Impact: We've seen a lot of bombs exploding so far near the front lines, but quite frankly these are very light air attacks -- 90 strikes a day, a few of which are going on entrenched Taliban troop positions. When you start out slow with a few strikes, it often emboldens the targeted soldiers. If we switch all of that action to the front lines, it might have a much more massive effect.

The measure of the success is when the Northern Alliance starts to move and take territory around Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif. The search for a diplomatic solution reportedly is holding up the advance toward Kabul. The approach of Ramadan and winter complicates what to do militarily.

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Tactics: You divide the country into engagement zones and put an airborne air controller inside a fighter aircraft. He has set rules of engagement that tell him what he is free to hit -- tanks, artillery pieces and the like. You also tie him up with observers who may be on the ground, plus surveillance aircraft and other airborne assets. Basically, they are all looking for targets, moving targets. If the pilot looks at the target and if he can confirm it, then he can hit it himself.

They normally will go back to the same "areas of suspicion" day after day. It's usually the same pilot, so he knows what to look for and where to look for it. The AC-130s, which serve a different purpose in the campaign, fly lower than the fighter jets and tend to target a particular area rather than a given target.

Strategy: A macro-strategy is the intensification of the bombing on frontline troops in and near Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif. There's also a race for a diplomatic solution and an attempt to get all this done in the next few weeks. If not, there may be a sustained bombing campaign over the winter.

We want the Taliban and al Qaeda, but I doubt seriously that we'll go cave by cave. If you do that, it will take massive numbers of ground troops. The Soviets did it during their war in Afghanistan, and it's very difficult -- there are thousands of caves, and it's unclear where you start and where you end.

The whole point is not to occupy the country, but to change the balance in the country so the Taliban are no longer in charge. In the next two weeks, you will see a race to diplomacy and a coalition agreement and then also an intensified bombing campaign.


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

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