Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: New bases could aid effort
Update: The most significant development in the last 24 hours is the news from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's overseas trip -- the reports are of increased use of bases in Uzbekistan, perhaps widening capability beyond humanitarian and rescue missions that were initially announced, and the possibility of surveying three bases in Tajikistan.
Basing rights in the area are important to several things. They are the key to efforts to resupply Northern Alliance and coalition forces and also key to bringing in more forces for a sustained campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda. The more bases you have, the more land-based air power you can bring in. And applying land-based air power means you can generate more flights over a sustained period of time than you can with carrier-based aircraft.
Tactics: The reports are that we are considering these bases for the resupply of additional U.S. forces and the resupply and replenishment of Northern Alliance and coalition troops in the areas of the north. Additionally, there are increasing reports of activity [against the Taliban] of Pashtuns in the south in the Kandahar area. We may be seeing the initial indications that the Taliban are beginning to feel pressure.
Much has been made about the winter weather. Winter is a blessing and a curse. U.S. and coalition troops are well-schooled in fighting in bad weather. They have the equipment and clothing, and the United States will not put troops anywhere where it cannot resupply and protect them. Winter is probably more a hindrance to the Taliban than it is to the United States.
Strategy: It would be great if all of this could come about without any major ground effort -- in other words, you would see a collapse of the Taliban, a massive defection of the Pashtun tribes in the south and efforts by the Northern Alliance and coalition forces in the north to make the Taliban vanish. It's too early to tell if this is shaping up.
Even with additional bases, Pakistan is significant no matter what the United States does, and it's key for several reasons. Pakistan has close proximity and basing rights for humanitarian airlift and pilot rescues. Additionally, because of its intelligence and contact with the Taliban -- it is the only nation remaining that has formal relations with the Taliban -- Pakistani officials know more about the Taliban than any other people.
All the elements are in place to gradually tighten the noose on the Taliban. And we are hearing continued resolve from President Bush, the defense secretary and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and from the American people and the coalition.
Thousands of people were killed in the World Trade Center -- from 80 nations and from all racial and ethnic groups. Al Qaeda attacked the world, not just the United States. Myers reaffirmed the resolve of the military to see this through to the end no matter what it takes. That's a message coming through loud and clear. The elements are in place, and there are indications they are beginning to work in a long, difficult and murky journey.
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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