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Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Toppling forces takes time

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

Update: We're in a dull phase, going after the Taliban fielded forces. The level of strikes Wednesday was still the same as it has been recently -- about 90 to 100 sorties a day, which is not much at all. Besides the area around Kabul and Bagram air base, we're making strikes in Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif.

Another thing that's happening is the meeting in Pakistan of 800 opposition forces, who are in the process of agreeing to an interim government in Afghanistan. It would be headed by the exiled king; they would call up a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, to choose new leaders; and they'd then set up a UN protectorate of Afghanistan made up of Muslims.

Impact: It's very dicey. This area around Kabul between Kabul and Bagram is a very difficult area, (with) World War I minefields, trenches, this type of thing. It's going to take a lot of specific strikes, which means we have to have liaisons on the ground with the Northern Alliance to make these strikes effective.

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And it takes a lot of time to decimate Taliban forces, to decimate their supply lines, to cut off their money, to take out individual soldiers in the hills and trenches. This is not something that happens overnight. Remember, the Republican Guard in Iraq survived a 37-day intense air campaign. When they suddenly withdrew, they weren't destroyed by any means. General rule of thumb for military operations: If you destroy 10 percent of the other sides' capability to wage war, you've really affected their ability to act coherently as a fighting force.

The council meeting in Pakistan puts a lot of pieces together. But they're still a long way from having all the agreements in place -- including the UN agreeing to take part, involving Taliban interested in peace in the new government. But overall, the pieces politically and diplomatically seem to be moving well.

Tactics: The military right now is concentrating on these front line positions, even as the Pentagon is saying many Taliban are hiding in various cities. You are not going to carpet-bomb cities, but you should not give them sanctuary either. We have the ability to hit equipment, material and other targets with precision in downtown areas. We did it during the Gulf War, and we also did it during the Kosovo campaign.

We do have the ability, with B-52s and B-1s, to carpet bomb front line areas of dug-in troops. But you've got to be careful, especially if the Taliban are moving closer to opposition forces (as reported), because you don't want to hit troops that are on your side. It's not precision bombing when you come in and drop long strings of bombs.

Strategy: There are only 15,000 fighters on the Northern Alliance side, about the size of a United States Army division. The one Northern Alliance division between Bagram and Kabul, a city of 2 million people, gets swallowed up pretty quickly in that area, especially if the Taliban are able to meld into the villages and hills and then regroup if an attack is made toward Kabul.

The raids are very important, because they make Taliban and al Qaeda know we can come anytime and in places of our choosing. They have to be afraid that we're going to show up. It also means they have to guard areas along the back lines, which takes troops away from the front.

And again, airstrikes themselves will take time to take effect. That's why we're being prepared that this could go on into the winter and next spring.


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

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN is sensitive to reporting any information that could endanger lives or operations.


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