Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Here come the Marines
UPDATE: Clearly what we have going on right now is they're bringing to a conclusion the revolt in the prison west of Mazar-e Sharif. There is reportedly still fighting going on there, with five Americans injured by an errant bomb for a reason now under investigation. The five soldiers were reportedly seriously injured and are being evacuated to Landstuhl, a military installation in Germany.
Konduz has fallen, and you're going to see a lot of mopping up going on as people who have escaped and disappeared into the hills are being dug out by individual operations.
You are also going to see now, with the move into the Kandahar area, the Marines. They have been inserted at a base reportedly south-southwest of Kandahar, which means it is not the main airport at Kandahar. They're from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, from the USS Peleliu, and the 26th MEU, from the USS Bataan. The two amphibious assault ships resemble small aircraft carriers.
IMPACT: The purpose of these Marines, as stated by the Pentagon, is to establish a base of operations. Once the base is established, several things can happen. It can be a base to receive more forces. The Marines can take part in action in and around Kandahar. They can be sent to interdict roads west, to Iran; east, to Kabul; and south, into Pakistan.
Combined with special operations forces, they can also be used to go after al Qaeda cells or Osama bin Laden himself as more intelligence becomes available.
TACTICS: There are 2,200 Marines in each MEU. About 1,000 are combat infantry. The MEU is composed of a command element, a ground combat element (about a reinforced battalion), an air combat element (helicopters and fighters), and a combat support element. About 1,000 of them go forward and the rest remain on the ship.
They were ferried in by helicopters, which are CH-53 Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights. They have the ability to use Hueys and Cobras to go out of their base for operations. They have the AV-8B Harriers from the small carriers that can help with close air support. They are a small, self-contained fighting force that has heavier firepower than the special operations forces, which are composed mainly of 12- to 14-man teams.
They have light armored vehicles, they have machine guns and mortars, they have TOW missiles, they have Javelin anti-armor and anti-vehicle weapons. These forces can be tailored. It doesn't mean they're going to take them all with them. It gives Gen. Tommy Franks much more flexibility than he had before.
STRATEGY: I think all of this means that we're getting ready to go after the al Qaeda cells and bin Laden himself. I think the ability of bin Laden to move to other locations has been severely restricted with the rapid movement of Northern Alliance and opposition forces. He has fewer and fewer places to go internationally that will accept him, and he has fewer and fewer places to hide in the country.
Wherever he goes, he's going to have to have a lot of security and he's going to have a fairly big signature in terms of people, communications, supplies and equipment. Wherever we go after him and al Qaeda, it's going to be a serious fight.
But I think the net is getting very, very tight, and I think we're going to see actions against bin Laden and al Qaeda much sooner than any of us thought. Most us were thinking it would take a long, long time, maybe into next summer. I think it's going to happen much more rapidly than that.
If you mounted an operation against bin Laden right now, you would likely see Marines involved, the special operations troops involved, and of course air power involved from the Marines, the Air Force and the Navy. And you could also bring in other forces to enhance that operation.
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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U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Navy: Amphibious Assault Ships
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