Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Close cooperation key
Update: There are several major updates. First of all, the heavy bombing by B-52 and B-1 forces Wednesday is an important development. What we are doing now is applying pressure, from an interdiction standpoint, close to the Taliban front lines, in particular around Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul.
There were also reports today that Marines have been deployed, probably from the USS Pelieu stationed in the Arabian Sea. They weren't told where they were going, but it's very likely those forces will be sent to also establish liaison, gain trust and garner intelligence from the Northern Alliance and other coalition forces.
The other thing yesterday is the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Franks, reportedly met in, I believe, Tajikistan with Northern Alliance forces. All of this is aimed to establish close cooperation between U.S. and opposition forces, so as to get intelligence and be able to bomb quickly.
Impact: The important thing is that there are targets underneath those B-52 and B-1 bombs. We are undoubtedly reacting to intelligence that we have received by liaison with Northern Alliance and other coalition forces. This is not a stunt -- it's going after things that we know have reason to believe are there.
And the Taliban should be getting the message that we can bring extreme force to bear at times and places of our choosing. Right now, we have enough force to go in and take any portion of the country we wish for a short period of time. And the longer this goes, the longer we'll be able to hold them.
Tactics: We can send waves of B-52s and B-1s from Diego Garcia and other places if we so desire, and each one can carry anywhere from 60 to 80 bombs (as opposed to a few missiles on most fighters). What you saw yesterday, although massive compared with what we have seen before, is nothing compared with what we are able to do, should we desire to do it.
There has also been a lot of talk about forward basing, but in my opinion the main purpose of a forward base would be to re-supply opposition forces.
Mazar-e Sharif is a major goal because of its proximity to northern supply routes out of Uzbekistan. You want to cut off the re-supply of the Taliban coming from Uzbekistan and other areas. You also want to ensure that the area can be used as a re-supply route to the Northern Alliance and coalition forces. We can bring a lot in if we establish road traffic.
Strategy: Now, the obvious question with all this is, OK, when is ground action going to begin? And the answer is, whenever the Northern Alliance is ready. They are not our forces, they're making their own decisions. And it's up to them when and if and where they want to go. If they do, we obviously will be doing as much as we can to affect the deployed Taliban forces.
To me, the issue of halting strikes over Ramadan is a red herring. It's been grossly overblown. Ramadan has never been observed in wars throughout history. This is a political decision, not a military decision. From a military standpoint, we want to continue against military targets whenever and wherever they are, and at whatever time we want to do it.
Gradually, all the pieces are in place to put in large movements of U.S. forces if we want and to re-supply the Northern Alliance if we want. The Taliban has to worry about all of this. And we're running the timetable and not them -- that's the most encouraging thing about all of this.
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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