- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

Criticism of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is growing not only among the politicians and pundits, but inside the Pentagon, too.
Several high-ranking officers who have had a hand in plotting strategy say the White House has missed an early opportunity to help the opposition to the Taliban. Instead of bombing abandoned terrorist camps, U.S. strikes should have hit ruling Taliban forces from the air campaign's Oct. 7 start. The officials also said planners have used far too few special-operations forces to help find targets inside Afghanistan.
These officials are sympathetic to the views of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other civilian policy-makers who have pushed within the administration to form closer military ties to the Northern Alliance opposition. They want the United States to fully arm the rebels and use them aggressively to lead American troops in seeking hard-to-find targets for American bomber pilots.
One officer, who like the others speaks only for anonymous attribution, says the Joint Staff, which devises strategy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has erred in believing that air power alone could dislodge the Taliban. He cites the initial claim by the Pentagon that the bombing had "eviscerated" the Taliban's military power a claim the military has since retracted.
"We can interfere with their ability to operate," he said of the Taliban. "But we can't make them go away. In fact, our operations to date have largely convinced people in the Third World that we are beatable. … We've got to take the blinders off and start sending in the forces that will allow us to win this war."
Nevertheless, said one senior official, several generals and admirals at the Pentagon were "surprised" that after three weeks of strikes the Taliban continued to hold tenaciously to the key town of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, the capital.
"We've hit a lot of targets, but we're not dislodging the Taliban," this official said. "We're not giving the Northern Alliance a hole to go through. The Taliban is a lot more formidable than we thought they would be. … [War planners] thought they would be farther ahead than they are. They are surprised, but determined."
Gen. Tommy Franks, who is the overall commander of U.S. and British forces, is said to be deeply skeptical of forming close military ties to the Northern Alliance. Officials say he has argued that the CIA, not his troops, should do the bulk of modernizing the rebels, just as the agency helped the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s.
The four-star Army general met this week for the first time with opposition leaders while visiting Uzbekistan, a new strategic ally that borders northern Afghanistan. But his comments to reporters afterward indicated that his campaign plan did not necessarily jell with the rebels'.
"We have taken a decision," the general told reporters, "that says we will remain focused on our objectives and we will retain the initiative rather than providing specific focus on a specific area, which would be a lot like previous wars but not much like this war."
A senior administration official said CIA field officers working in northern Afghanistan have run into problems recruiting Afghan agents spies who could provide vital information on the al Qaeda terror network and its protectors, the Taliban. This source said the Pentagon has approved the transfer of special-operations personnel to the CIA operation essentially to work as case officers to try to recruit spies.
"The CIA is showing the weakness of all the years of not working in the field," said this official. "They have to borrow Special Forces, Delta guys."
The CIA has a practice of not commenting on its operations, but is known to be working hand-in-hand with U.S. commandos in the region. A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which is headed by Gen. Franks, said the command does not comment on current or future operations.
Added to the military disagreements were reservations expressed by the State Department. Diplomats voiced concerns that a partnership between the U.S.-British side and the Northern Alliance would alienate Pakistan, the chief U.S.-British ally, which regarded the Northern Alliance as an unpredictable neighbor.
The result of this infighting, said these Pentagon dissenters, was the lack of a coherent policy on how closely to work with the Northern Alliance, a ragtag army of several ethnic groups that the Taliban ousted from power in 1996.
That it took the administration three weeks after the bombing began to start supplying the alliance with only limited help ammunition is a direct result of the bureaucratic boxing, Pentagon sources say. Said one official: "We should have been working with the Northern Alliance on the 12th of September," referring to the day after the terrorists flew airliners into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
"The Northern Alliance has to be built up in two ways," he said. "Politically, it has to be expanded. It has to be able to recruit more widely. And it has to be armed with equipment in a more effective way and this to me is really a problem. If the Northern Alliance is the way to go, why is it that this week we just now hear that we are trying to give them ammunition?"
In public, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has taken no notice of the second-guessing percolating inside the building he runs. "It is going according to plan," he told reporters. He warned again that the war to destroy the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's terror network, al Qaeda, "is not going to be quick."
U.S. officials have made these points in interviews:
Gen. Franks made mistakes in some target selections. He should have ignored abandoned terrorist training camps and used heavy bombers to go after Taliban forces defending Kabul, the capital, and the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Mr. Rumsfeld went out of his way at a press conference this week to point out that Tuesday's bombing targeted Taliban troops almost exclusively. "I would think for today, for example, the intention was to have something like 80 percent of our effort addressed to the front-line troops." The previous percentage, he said, was 50 percent.
For the past two weeks, as the enemy went into caves and tunnels, the focus on finding and bombing the Taliban has demanded the insertion of special-operations troops to locate them for air strikes.
Yet, say two senior U.S. officials, few commandos have taken part in targeting missions inside the country. "There's a lot more they could be doing," one of the officials said.
Still, plenty of Pentagon policy advisers believe the war is going well. One senior official said, "I think it's going as well as you could expect after three weeks."
Gen. Franks, a career Army artillery officer, has limited air war options. The vast majority of tactical sorties come from Navy carriers off the coast of Pakistan. Long-range Air Force bombers must travel from the United States and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. Washington has not won the right to mount air strikes from any neighboring country, meaning the few Air Force fighters to participate must fly hundreds of miles from the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Rumsfeld says he won't be rushed into authorizing the beginning of the next critical stage of the war a sustained campaign by special-operations troops to wipe out the Taliban and al Qaeda. Those who suggest turning up the heat now, he said, "would reflect a lack of understanding or knowledge as to the effort we've been putting into it."


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