Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Seizing air base key
Update: One major issue is the U.S. need for a forward base in Afghanistan, which is necessary to resupply forces. This development raises important questions of when to do it, where to do it and how to do it so that it's done in a meaningful way.
Right now, you can drop things in by air, but they can only get to anti-Taliban forces by donkey or vehicle. The key is not the base itself, but how you get munitions and supplies off the base and to the frontline forces.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander in chief in the region who met with Pakistani and Uzbek leaders recently, has control over all the pieces, not just the military side of it. He must worry not just about things like selecting and seizing air bases, but the stability of and relationships with surrounding countries. Only he has the big picture of how the military parts fit together with everything else.
Impact: We have the capability right now … to go in and take any part of Afghanistan that we want at the time of our choosing. But we want to be careful about selecting the location of an air base. And it takes time to establish liaisons with the Northern Alliance and other opposition forces.
They are saying now this war may take a long time -- it may take six months or through summer; it may take longer than that. The key is that, whatever we do for the Northern Alliance and opposition forces, they are getting gradually stronger while the Taliban are getting gradually weaker. We're strangling their money, supplies and resources.
Tactics: You have to not only secure the base; you have to protect it. Then you have to be able to resupply it, reinforce it if it comes under attack and extract people if it comes under heavy attack and you can't defend it.
That's all very difficult, especially given the nature of the Northern Alliance forces in that they are guerrillas with a modest supply line. When you put munitions and supplies down on the ground, you risk roads being mined, attacks by Taliban forces or pro-Taliban guerillas.
So all of this has to be thought through very carefully, and you have to take every precaution.
Strategy: The idea of digging out guerrillas along the front lines is very difficult and has to be done carefully. And we have other complications such as winter, Ramadan, the fact that Taliban forces are dispersing into the cities -- being careful about the collateral damage. It just takes time, and we're going to take whatever time it needs.
The relationship between the United States and the Northern Alliance will also develop over time as will information we get from the Northern Alliance, people we've captured, people who defected. Again, it's the cumulative effect of the military, financial and law enforcement worldwide that will make this thing work -- not just military action against the Taliban.
Clearly, the political and diplomatic picture is much more difficult and complex than the military. The diplomatic and political situation moves a lot faster and in more uncertain ways than the military does. The military is fairly predictable. We're going against the Taliban. We're going to help the Northern Alliance and opposition get stronger, and we're going to win.
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 CNN.com.
EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN is sensitive to reporting any information that could endanger lives or operations.
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