Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Noose tightening on al Qaeda
Update: The two big hotspots are Kandahar and Konduz area. We reportedly did what was called carpet bombing this morning near Konduz against pro-Taliban Chechen, Pakistani and Arab forces. Down in Kandahar it's still very fluid. Many of the remaining Taliban have withdrawn to that area, and we can expect fights and a little bit longer to sort it out. The encouraging thing is that it appears Pashtun tribes in the area are heavily engaged in fighting, as opposed to the Northern Alliance.
We have already ferociously attacked several known and suspected places where bin Laden and al Qaeda forces are known to frequent. The Pentagon said Thursday U.S. forces hit two buildings with air power, killing several al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
Of course, one big piece of news was the release of the eight aid workers. Our fear all along was that these workers would be executed or used for barter, or the Taliban would stage an activity to kill them and blame it on U.S. airstrikes. Apparently the Taliban abandoned these people in a jail southwest of Kabul, and opposition forces came in and opened the prison. Our special forces clearly kept track of them, and they provided transport out of the area.
Impact: The aid workers' release is further evidence of the disintegration of Taliban command and control and their ability to conduct coherent operations as they hastily retreat south toward Kandahar. There will still be considerable pockets of activity throughout the country that the Northern Alliance and opposition forces will have to clean up with the assistance of U.S. air power and perhaps Special Forces. It's most likely that you will have a fight in Kandahar because of the desperate Taliban fleeing down there, but it's also possible that they will stop fighting and switch sides or perhaps just turn the city over. It's also very likely that many of them will flee into the hills, hoping to conduct guerrilla operations over a sustained period of time.
Overlaying all of this is the intense search for al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The picture I'm getting is that he's still in the country. The people in the country will know what places he frequents, where he is, and what activity takes place. Moreover, bin Laden has to be surrounded by a large number of personal supporters -- read, Arabs. There is a huge reward for this man, and money really talks in this area.
Tactics: With friendly forces taking over portions of the country, we are immediately relying on whoever occupies an area to provide us with information with the liaisons we've established, using our Special Forces. In the south, we're going to rapidly increase our liaisons with anti-Taliban Pashtun tribes in the south. Some Taliban leaders are reportedly talking about turning against bin Laden and turning him in, but it would be difficult to find him and capture him.
But human intelligence is absolutely key. There will be information from not only captured documents, but captured soldiers, defectors, and from people after money. Even with all the surveillance technology, the best way to find him is for someone to tell you, yes he's here, and he's here now.
Everybody is assuming that we're going to insert large numbers of Special Forces to actually go and get him. That may or may not be true. The first thing we have to do right now is establish liaisons in the new areas that we were not heavily involved before. And you must establish what information is true and false, and then decide how you're going to use that information to go after the people responsible.
Strategy: The noose is really tightening on al Qaeda and bin Laden, but it will not be easy to get them. There are so many places in the country to hide, and it is also possible he could have secreted himself into Pakistan or en route to other countries. But he will attract attention and he has a price on his head wherever he goes. President Bush has made clear that whoever harbors bin Laden will become a target and suffer the same result as he does. There is also possibility bin Laden has already been killed in these attacks, but we don't have word on that yet.
But probably the most likely guess is that he's still on the run in Afghanistan. It's difficult to do anything meaningful in the way of military action, planning, conducting activities, communicating when you're on the run. We are really searching and more and more people are searching for him all the time.
And this idea of Taliban conducting guerrilla warfare does not equate with the war mujahedeen waged against the Soviets in the 1980s. Then, basically the entire population was against the few Soviets in the country. You've got the exact opposite situation, where everybody appears to be turning against the Taliban and al Qaeda forces.
Now there's the really hard fight -- the diplomatic fight, which will take a long period of time. The military action has been important, but what you really want is a successful political solution.
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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