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Maj. Gen. David Grange: Searching the caves

David Grange is a retired U.S. Army major general and a military analyst for CNN.  

UPDATE: U.S. special forces are helping anti-Taliban troops search caves and tunnels used as possible hiding places.

IMPACT: It's tough, dangerous work. Even if we hear Osama bin Laden's not in there, someone needs to search them anyway because of evidence, information, intelligence on future operations. A lot of these people exit these caves very quickly, and so a lot of times they leave behind radios or frequencies on them that we can exploit, or maps or material or pictures or whatever the case may be.

TACTICS: When you're going after enemies that use caves, tunnels, any subterranean features, you have to almost do it as if you're doing an urban fight above ground level.

You have some very rudimentary-type caves all the way up in the scale to the very sophisticated. They're heavily booby-trapped and mined at times and nothing is straight. In other words there are right angles off the caves, so you have to turn corners or one blast will be directional one way but it may not go around the corner. There's probably a lot of devious planning in how they build it, where there are false entranceways that you don't know about.

You can be assured there are numerous escape routes, and there's a lot of connectivity between cave complexes to include, possibly, an escape across the border into Pakistan.

The United States will have good information on these complexes because of its backing of the Mujahedeen during the Soviet fight. Other information comes from heat-source intelligence -- radar that sees through a certain amount of terrain -- and the human intelligence from the locals. Plus signal intercepts on the walkie-talkies. They're using nonsecure lines in most cases, putting together a pretty good picture of who's where and what.

Even 30 years ago in Vietnam we used to pick up locations of people from ammonia, from urine. Gases from human waste, cooking fires, generators burning diesel to give them power for lights -- those kinds of things can be picked up. And they usually need some kind of air source.

STRATEGY: It's hard to say the number of people involved to take these down and search them, because it depends on the size and the information you have in what to expect. You not only need shooters or assaulters to kill people in there, but you need engineers -- experts, for structural reasons. You need demolition experts to blow doors, to place overpressure charges and thermobaric charges to create overpressure to kill people around corners.

And then you have to secure not only the entrance, but around the area in case of secret exits, so you catch people coming out as your people go in. So it may be a four- or eight-man team or it could be hundreds of people, depending on the complexity. And they know the area, you're in their back yard.

If you want to capture someone, you may use a combination of blowing doors, setting off charges that temporarily disable people through shock where they get nosebleeds, ear bleeds, and disoriented. Then it's easy to grab or shoot them without loss of life to your people.

I definitely would want to use as many locals to help me because of mines, booby-traps, and because the approach march to the cave is also treacherous. And I'd also want to interrogate these prisoners. After the interrogation, they will give you information and they'll talk.


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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