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Gen. Wesley Clark: Taliban 'rats' bolt

Wesley Clark is a former NATO supreme commander and a military analyst for CNN.  

UPDATE: The situation near Kandahar is a case of the rats leaving the sinking ship. These Taliban forces didn't stay in the city to be disarmed, they didn't stay there to lay down and cease their resistance. So if they're fleeing, they have to be presumed to still have hostile intent. So they should be legitimate targets, and it's important we're striking them. These people were part of the enterprise that was sheltering al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the war goes on against the al Qaeda stronghold of Tora Bora. This is a necessary and difficult long-term process. It's important that we do everything we can to seal to border to Pakistan and enlist the help of the Pakistanis in preventing the escape of al Qaeda members into Pakistan, especially the potential escape of Osama bin Laden.

IMPACT: It's very important that the Taliban resistance has collapsed in Kandahar and elsewhere. That is a significant validation of U.S. strategy. Now the problem is making sure we follow through, to bring out Taliban leader Mullah Omar and other key information that will be useful as we continue our attack against al Qaeda.

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I think it's important that Omar is brought to justice; I don't believe it was appropriate that he be given amnesty. But fact is, it's going to be up to the people on the ground there, including interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and other members of the anti-Taliban tribal groups, to take action and apprehend Omar. This may be difficult.

What's happening in Kandahar is different than what transpired in Konduz and Mazar-e Sharif because of the strength of the tribal groupings, the overall circumstances -- this is the end, for one -- and the fact this is in the Taliban's traditional Pashtun stronghold.

TACTICS: It's more difficult for U.S. power to have a maximal impact in this part of the campaign. Most of our power has been coming from aircraft, and for that we need hard targets, dug-in troops and defined points of resistance on the ground to bring our own people in. Tactics get even more difficult with pockets of resistance and no real front line, because you have to operate in so many points at once.

It is important that we continue to pursue Taliban holdouts and al Qaeda forces. But it becomes a matter of not only how we do it, but who will do it for us. That's going to be very challenging.

STRATEGY: One big question is whether the anti-Taliban alliance now in power have the desire to continue the fight. The typical pattern of conflict in Afghanistan is that at this stage, everybody quits fighting and everyone melts back into the villages. They usually keep their weapons, they remain in contact with other tribal leaders, and the resistance could start again at most any time.

It's going to be difficult for the United States to inspire anti-Taliban fighters to track down every last one of these people -- particularly if they'd just as well give them amnesty if they are caught.

In Afghanistan, war doesn't end with a bang, it ends with a whimper. Karzai and other tribal leaders have to worry about establishing a government, getting international relief supplies in and caring for the people very quickly, making it even harder to maintain the current military campaign's intensity.


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

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN is sensitive to reporting any information that could endanger lives or operations.


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