Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Taking care of Kandahar
UPDATE: In Kandahar, Pashtun forces under Hamid Karzai are moving in from the north, the Marines are down to the southwest, and another Pashtun tribesman, Gul Aga, is moving his fighters from the south. With the exception of the Marines, all of these forces are slowly encircling the city, while intense bombing is hitting remaining Taliban and al Qaeda positions.
Many southern Pashtun tribes are now realizing they made a marriage with the devil when the Taliban came in. They became disaffected with the government, and only now do they have the means to do something about it -- with U.S. air power and the antiterrorism coalition on their side.
It also looks as if the Afghan leaders are nearing a political solution for a future government in Bonn. There appears to be some agreement among all four factions. They would set up an interim government to last six months until a loya jirga [or traditional Afghan council] can be held, at which time a solution for a final government will be explored and pursued.
IMPACT: The bombing and troop movements will continue until the remaining Taliban are in the same situation that they were in Konduz -- encircled with no supplies, no communications and no way to get out other than to surrender or fight to the death. The remaining Afghan Taliban will most likely surrender or switch sides. As to foreign al Qaeda fighters there, the incident in Mazar-e Sharif seems to indicate many of them won't surrender. So there may be some hard, pitched battles to come.
A few days ago, we were predicting Kandahar would fall the first of this week. Now it seems the pro-Taliban pockets in Kandahar won't be cleaned up until next week or the week after.
The political developments are very encouraging, but now the real challenge comes. That includes implementing an interim government in Kabul, getting airfields around the country repaired so humanitarian aid can be brought in, getting the country safe under a rule of law so you can distribute aid on the ground -- all as you pursue a final political solution while pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts loyal to Mullah Omar.
TACTICS: You want to avoid house-to-house fighting. As pockets of resistance are identified in Kandahar, you may see precision U.S. strikes so that you don't have to take it building by building. Still, it will be tough to take Kandahar. It is a reasonably sized city and there are desperate people inside.
The Marines are there to set up a forward operating base so more forces can come in if we need them to take Kandahar, mop up southern Afghanistan, or pursue bin Laden and al Qaeda. They also have significant air support with them in the way of helicopters, so they can also be a quick reaction force. They're very flexible.
But with these troop movements and strikes, you'll see reports like those coming out of towns being bombed near Jalalabad. I can tell you U.S. forces did not intentionally bomb towns just because al Qaeda may have been in the area.
They may be errant weapons or maybe there was mistaken intelligence. Or the buildings may have been intentionally hit because they had been identified as holding al Qaeda cells and supporters, because we've said all along we'd target those supporting, housing, feeding or financing al Qaeda.
STRATEGY: If and when anti-Taliban forces take Kandahar, we turn to mopping up and routing any remaining and defecting Taliban around the country. When they have defected, you want to make sure they've laid down their arms, so they won't shoot you in the back or regroup and re-attack. That takes some time, and could get messy. It's going to be the responsibility of Pashtun tribal leaders in the south and the Northern Alliance in the north.
There's many reasons why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said this is a dangerous and difficult time. You've got Kandahar, hunting down the remaining al Qaeda and bin Laden, ironing out a political solution, dispensing humanitarian aid and stabilizing the country. All five things will be going on at once, whereas before all you had to do was fight.
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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