Maj. Gen. David Grange: Marines pack a punch
UPDATE: With about 1,000 Marines on the ground, The coalition finally has a forward operating base inside Afghanistan. It's about 300 miles from the north Arabian Sea to Kandahar province, which made assaults launched off ships pretty much out of operational reach without having to stop and refuel somewhere. Reducing the operational radius for missions gives the U.S. tremendous capabilities.
The Marines are a very good combined arms team, integrating air and ground forces. They have attack helicopters and Harrier jets, with its vertical take-off capability, for close-air support; they have artillery; they have some lightly armored vehicles; and, of course, they have ground troops.
It makes sense for these guys to go after any target that raises its head, and they're ready to go now. It just depends on intelligence, and they'll coordinate with special forces' liaisons in the area for that reason. This force is very nicely shaped for interdiction missions and to provide muscle for special operations forces, and I can also see them doing reconnaissance, and blocking roads.
IMPACT: The Marines are far enough removed from Kandahar so that, while they're an obvious target for indirect fire, missiles, mortars or a terrorist truck bombing, they have more flexibility and aren't as vulnerable. And I'm sure they're taking very robust measures to protect their force.
It'd be great if the Taliban grouped in units of 500 or more and attacked, because the Marines would just crush them. It's not really a threat with the airpower backing up the guys on the ground, and it'd give the U.S. a better chance to kill more Taliban and al Qaeda faster, and they wouldn't have to search the mountains and caves.
TACTICS: That U.S. force won't go in and take out Kandahar themselves; in fact there's a good chance they wouldn't even go in at all. They may take out a piece of Kandahar, though, in coordination with anti-Taliban going in. They'd be more surgical, going after a specific command post or something like that.
If they need to quickly move a force to set up a roadblock on a road leading in or out of a terrorist stronghold, for example, the Marines can move by helicopter very quickly and with enough airpower to cover them. They can pack quite a punch -- much more than any Taliban -- because of the synchronized ground-air capabilities.
This a special ops-capable unit -- not all Marines are. They get 6-month specialized training, and they have advanced communications and the capability to coordinate and operate with special operations forces. It's a great force for non-combatant evacuation operations, and it would be good for small raids. They would have more firepower than a Ranger unit. They're trained in mountain warfare, desert warfare and urban warfare -- all of which could play out in that area.
As to this unit's disadvantages, they've really got some old helicopters. The CH-46 is older than dirt and really needs to be replaced. They obviously wouldn't put people in them unless they could maintain them -- they're just worn and don't carry the payload they were designed to carry.
STRATEGY: Now there is an American force close to the final objective area where they can finish the mission -- break the al Qaeda infrastructure, tear down the Taliban support mechanism, and deter other countries. Granted, Osama bin laden may be closer to Jalalabad than Kandahar, but these Marines are still 300 or so miles closer than they were before.
As to their opposition, I don't think the Taliban have 20,000 troops. Likely, you still have between 3,000 to 1,000 hard-core foreign fighters, and I'd think they're around bin Laden. If the U.S. can get good intelligence on these forces or any Taliban holdouts, these Marines can go get them -- helped, most likely, by local support who know about minefields and stuff like that.
It's great to have the Marines there, but the Department of Defense doesn't want them to stay in that capacity too long. The U.S. is a superpower and a magnet for someone trying to engineer an incident or generate propaganda. Some Afghans may say, "The Russian Soviets were here, and we kicked them out, and now we're going to kick the Americans out." In other words, once there's any kind of rift in these Afghan factions, the U.S. doesn't want to end up being in the middle, being manipulated and then becoming a common enemy.
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.
Marines in action in Afghanistan
November 27, 2001
U.S. hunts bin Laden near Jalalabad, Kandahar
November 27, 2001
Nic Robertson: Action in southern Afghanistan
November 26, 2001
Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Here come the Marines
November 26, 2001
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