Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Get Taliban first, al Qaeda later
Update: There are still pockets of Taliban resistance, including around Konduz where there are a lot of volunteer Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters who retreated from northern areas around Taloquan, Mazar-e Sharif and Bamiyan. It's difficult for them to resupply and reportedly there are significant airstrikes. But that action has to be completed and the area consolidated under Northern Alliance control.
The same thing is happening in the south around Kandahar. Reportedly, many Taliban are fleeing into the hills to consolidate, hide, and then launch guerrilla warfare. This area could take a lot more time (to control) than other places, because so many Taliban retreated here without fights in other areas.
At the same time, you've got the consolidation of humanitarian efforts. Reportedly, the main bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan has or will open so convoys can come south to Mazar-e Sharif. You're also going to have to reconstruct airports in that city and Kabul. If that weren't enough, you still have to establish law and order throughout the country.
Impact: You want to mop this up and get the Taliban to stop fighting. Then you can go after and really concentrate on getting al Qaeda forces, including Osama bin Laden. It's very likely that, with all the military developments, Taliban and al Qaeda leaders will leave Afghanistan. Mullah Omar, for one, has a lot of sympathizers in Pakistan, particularly near Quetta east of Jalalabad. Both he and bin Laden have a lot of places they can go adjacent to Afghanistan and receive immediate cover and protection.
The question is: How do you consolidate the gains while you're trying to finish off the military action and create stability and craft a coalition government? Burhanuddin Rabbani, ousted by the Taliban in 1996 as Afghanistan's president and recognized as such by the U.N., is reportedly heading to Kabul and may be immediately recognized as the nation's leader. Regardless, there will have to be a new system for deciding how power is shared and how elections will be held. My guess is that this will take several years and happen only with U.N. help. At the same time, Qatar has offered to host a 66-nation conference next week. There are precedents for doing this sort of thing outside the country while consolidation is taking place within.
Tactics: The role of our special operations is what it's been all along -- to establish liaisons with opposition forces, gain intelligence, mark targets and even conduct raids. Like everyone else, they have to move quickly and be careful in selecting targets, as it's very fluid and chaotic when you have massive retreats and sudden collapses like this.
We're concentrating our special operations and our sensors between Kabul and Kandahar to find out where Taliban forces are retreating and regrouping, where they are putting vehicles, what caves they are going into. Then we're going to pound them with air power as well as coordinate with ground forces of the Northern Alliance and opposition forces to essentially dig these people out.
Be it bin Laden or Omar or Taliban fighters, you cannot move without leaving a trail -- an electronic trail, a heat trail, a money trail or a reflective signature. They have to communicate with headquarters, by telephone or radios, and tell them where they're going -- info you can track. You also get photographic evidence, mainly from space assets. Or you can watch infrared sensors to see heat sources, which may indicate large troop or vehicle movement. It's a case now of concentrating these intelligence sensors and finding these needles in a haystack.
Strategy: No one envisioned military action would happen this quickly, and now there is a race to a diplomatic solution. Afghanistan is a boiling cauldron of ethnicity, tribes, religions, loyalties to warlords, and commerce issues. So it's much harder to work all this out in an acceptable political compromise that maintains an economy and transitions to peace and law than to defeat the Taliban militarily.
Our hope not to send U.S. forces in to police Kabul or other areas stems from this political problem. We do not want to be perceived as occupying an Islamic nation. So getting Islamic countries to do it, such as Turkey or Indonesia, would be very useful. British forces are also being assembled to possibly establish an initial force that would provide security before handing off to the U.N.
In the end, you really want the populace turning against everybody that is loyal to al Qaeda and helping you find where they are and helping root them out. We also need to remember that Afghanistan is only step one. There are many other areas around the world that we are very concerned about regarding terrorism, and that's where we will go next.
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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