Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Coalition closes in
UPDATE:It appears the situation we have is continued consolidation all over the country. First of all, the prison revolt west of Mazar-e Sharif is coming to an end. It appears there's still some shooting going on, but it's essentially under control, and the remaining fighters are still shooting and waiting to be killed.
IMPACT: There undoubtedly are people that have escaped from that prison revolt and also from other areas that will have to be mopped up over time. There are people that have weapons hidden in the hills and villages. They will acquire them and make guerrilla attacks at unfortunate times, and these are going to have to be rooted out over time. It's not something that will happen instantly.
The entire northern part of the country is under control of the Northern Alliance and opposition forces, but the entire southern part of the country is not. Gen. Tommy Franks made it clear in his briefing that the area south of Kabul in Jalalabad was not under control and, of course, there's the area around Kandahar.
TACTICS: It appears that the northern Pashtun tribes will be moving southeast toward Kandahar. At the same time, the Northern Alliance and other opposition forces will likely be moving southwest from Kabul down through treacherous mountainous area towards Kandahar.
These areas are controlled by the Taliban, so if it turns out to be a fight rather than a surrender, it could be very difficult and very bloody. On the other hand, they will have a lot of air support from U.S. and coalition forces. Now the Marines have been inserted south of Kandahar and can act as a blocking force, but they only have reported about 1,000 to 1,200 troops, and that is not a significant number of troops.
On the other hand, those troops and also special ops have been interdicting traffic along the roads that run northwest from Kandahar toward Iran, northeast toward Kabul and, of course, south toward Pakistan. At the same time the town of Spin Boldak reportedly is being turned over the Pashtun tribal chiefs as opposed to the Taliban, and that blocks the Pakistan border and the Shaman area.
All of that means that essentially when the forces begin to move, the people in Kandahar will be cut off to the west, to the east and to the south, leaving them only north to go, or they can surrender, or they can fight to the death. None of those are particularly appealing choices. Their going into the mountains provides some real problems, of course, to dig them out, because they can exist there for some period of time.
STRATEGY: We're entering what the president and Gen. Franks and the secretary of defense have said is a very dangerous period. We are now in a position -- with much of the country under other-than-Taliban control -- to finish off the Taliban and to begin going against the al Qaeda leadership and searching for bin Laden.
At the same time, Gen. Franks has reported they have been after 40 possible sites of weapons of mass destruction. They gained control of some of those sites and are in there searching now and finding materials and sending them to laboratories and all the things you would normally do. That search will clearly go on.
The Marines in the south clearly provide many more options for Gen. Franks because it's a forward operating base -- called an FOB -- that allows him to operate on shorter timelines. He can respond somewhere much more rapidly, he can resupply, but there is great danger in placing forces in country, because you have to resupply as well as defend them and be prepared to extract them if things go terribly bad.
So it's a very dangerous period. Inserting U.S. forces is dangerous, gaining control and mopping up the rest of the country is dangerous, and beginning to look for al Qaeda and bin Laden is extremely dangerous, because that's the big prize and, of course, he'll be well defended.
My prediction in all of this is that Kandahar could possibly be settled through negotiations as opposed to a final battle, although most people are predicting a final battle. I'm not predicting it either way. I'm just saying it's a possibility it could end up in negotiations just like Kunduz. Clearly if there are prisoners this time, whoever captures them needs to be much more prudent than the situation in Mazar-e Sharif.
The other thing that's developing is the coalition will have better and better intelligence from more and more sources; good intelligence to find out where he actually is -- where the caves that he's been in and could be operating in are, and what are in those caves and tunnel complexes. The intelligence gets much better and therefore, again, there's the overused phrase -- "the noose is tightening" -- but that's basically true.
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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