- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

The surprisingly quick fall of Kabul redirects the U.S. bombing campaign to the Taliban's stronghold of Kandahar as Bush administration officials warn that months of ground combat likely lie ahead to meet the war's objectives.
Military officials say the goals remain the same: Kill hard-core Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's terrorist army of about 5,000 al Qaeda warriors so they cannot sponsor attacks on America again.
"We need to keep the pressure on and exploit the current disarray of the Taliban," said a Marine aviator in Washington. "This is not Somalia, Haiti or East Timor. These people kicked us in the teeth in our own cities. They need to be annihilated."
Pentagon officials say that despite 38 days of U.S. bombing as the Northern Alliance gobbled up Taliban-held territory, the enemy still operates a sizeable, though beleaguered, force.
"As far as al Qaeda is concerned, coalition and Northern Alliance efforts have degraded some of al Qaeda's fighting units and destroyed areas where they might hide," Air Force Gen. Richard Meyers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said at the Pentagon. "That said, the al Qaeda terrorist organization remains dangerous, and our overall campaign objective remains to destroy al Qaeda and break the Taliban's hold on Afghanistan. So, while the efforts on the ground are encouraging, we will continue our fight against terrorism."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on Sunday, "I think it is important that al Qaeda and Taliban be taken out of Kabul, and every inch of that country."
Officials said they expect the Taliban to try to reorganize in the southern city of Kandahar and perhaps start a guerilla war against a new coalition government. Such a tactic worked against Russia in the 1980s, as the mujahideen hit Soviet forces, then retreated, until Moscow grew weary and recalled its troops.
But in the coming months, the American-led coalition enjoys distinct advantages over the old Soviet military especially in terms of pinpoint air strikes. Precise intelligence, night sensors and precision ordnance will enable aircraft to continue to pound terrorist hide-outs.
"Whether your dope comes from a satellite, an unmanned air vehicle or a team on the ground, if we can get eyes on the target we'll put a weapon against it," said the Marine pilot. "Our goal is to reduce that 'sensor to shooter' time as much as possible, particularly against mobile targets."
In the coming days, the Air Force hopes to move F-15E and F-16 strike fighters into Tajikistan, on Afghanistan's northern border. The close-in base will cut the time it now takes Gulf- and carrier-based fighters to reach their targets and enable each plane to generate multiple missions in one 24-hour period.
A guerrilla Taliban movement would also lack another mujahideen advantage. U.S. air strikes have all but severed supply routes. The Taliban, and bin Laden's al Qaeda army, will have to subsist on stored ammunition, fuel and food. Their supplies promise to grow scarce as the United States locates and bombs more storage bunkers.
The mujahideen was resupplied by billions of dollars in American aid funneled across the border by the CIA and the Pakistani government. Pakistan has turned against the Taliban, so any supplies will at best trickle into Afghanistan via fundamentalist supporters.
Said a military officer at the Pentagon, "We're now at the point the Russians found themselves in during the second year of their 10-year war. If we declare victory now, we will lose later."
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Taliban and al Qaeda "continue to have large numbers of forces."
The defense chief said that at this chaotic moment he does not believe the Taliban leadership itself knows what its next strategic move will be.
"Where they're going to decide to go, whether it's going to go across a border or they're going to try to consolidate near Kandahar or some other location, in the mountains, those are questions that they're going to have to answer for themselves," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld, before the fall of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and the capital of Kabul, said the Afghanistan campaign would take months, but not years.
Administration officials say today a winter campaign still remains likely in the time-consuming operation of pushing the Taliban out of Kandahar and then finding their hiding places.
"We're going to get them," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "I doubt that they'll find peace, wherever they select. This effort against terrorism and terrorists is far from over."
The Taliban military, which the Pentagon at first said was "eviscerated," then grudgingly praised as tenacious, is breaking apart under the weight of a rain of more than 8,000 munitions. With airborne photography and special-operations troops on the ground in recent weeks, the Pentagon has been able to find more targets, both stationary hide-outs and moving military units.


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