Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: A logical pattern to U.S. strategy
Update: It appears that the loss of a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan has come out to be a good news story as well as a bad one. The helicopter was part of a flight of two, and reports from various sources have four people on board the helicopter that crashed in bad weather Friday. That would be logical because this is the time of year in Afghanistan when bad weather sets in.
You have a howling wind causing sandstorms, and you have rain and the rain turns to freezing rain -- and freezing rain is a significant problem for helicopters as well as fixed-wing aircraft. It could be that it was forced down by freezing rain, then the other helicopter was able to land and pick up the crew.
The reason we destroyed the helicopter is obvious: We don't want anything to survive that was in there that might provide intelligence for the Taliban. We regularly destroy aircraft that are downed. I took part in several missions like that in Vietnam, where we destroyed helicopters that had gone down on resupply missions from the CIA.
Tactics: We won't know the reason for the operation until the Pentagon provides the details. But all of this appears in concert with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's statement that we are putting more advisers in Afghanistan.
You want to establish those advisers with the Northern Alliance and other opposition forces so you can have liaison capability, gather intelligence and find out where the enemy is and what the alliance's plans are to provide support during attacks.
So the problem is sorting out the good guys from the bad guys, and you have to have precise intelligence to do so. We have to have more liaison with the Northern Alliance and opposition forces. British and Turkish forces that have been reported to be in the area also can help.
If we can do enough by B-52 and fighter strikes, it may not be necessary to do close air support. The B-52 strikes will get closer as we gather better intelligence so I'm not sure you'll see attack helicopters or A-10s.
The key to supporting opposition forces is in hitting the troops that they're arrayed against and their supplies. You really have to have good intelligence about where they are on the ground because the closer conflicts get, the closer troops engage -- and therefore, the more precise the attacks have to be. The B-52 strikes are good again against marshaling areas -- troops arrayed in the field, vehicles and armor, that type of thing -- but you can't run them right up against the front lines.
Strategy: There has been much jubilation reported Saturday by the Northern Alliance, which says the B-52 strikes are beginning to have effects. It's clear that over time, the effects of air power are going to weaken the Taliban dramatically.
The arrival of winter is a blessing and a curse. We are able to operate in the winter better than the Taliban. Winter enhances our ability to seek things out with infrared devices. On the other hand, cloud cover inhibits us from using laser-guided weapons through the clouds from air. It doesn't inhibit ground forces from using them underneath, and it doesn't inhibit us from using satellite-guided weapons through the clouds if you know the precise location of targets.
What we really need for a sustained supply effort is to open the roads from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which is the importance of the Mazar-e Sharif area. Then you've got the road capability to bring things down from those two countries. You don't have to set up a base that you then have to protect and resupply.
All of this is going together in what I think is a logical picture -- more advisers to establish a liaison and gather intelligence, more bombing, more efforts to resupply and train the Northern Alliance and opposition forces, and more pressure on Mazar-e Sharif area to cut off resupply of the Taliban and the Kabul area.
We are taking our time and working on our schedule. There is no rush to establish a base, to insert large numbers of U.S. forces. The Taliban have to worry that we have the capability to operate whenever we want within Afghanistan at times and places of our choosing. They have a very complicated problem of defending their area because they don't know when or where we're going to strike or when or where the Northern Alliance and opposition forces are going to strike. The noose is being tightened, and it may take a long time to work, but it is going to work.
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.
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