Wednesday, November 21, 2001

The Pentagon lost an opportunity to kill hundreds of Taliban soldiers with the world’s biggest conventional bomb when the target was changed in midmission, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.
The U.S. military has dropped two of the 15,000-pound BLU-82 “daisy cutter” weapons during the air campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda terror network in Afghanistan.
The weapon’s massive explosion delivers a 600-yard-wide swath of destruction and can unnerve an enemy force.
On one of the two missions late last month, U.S. Central Command, which oversees the war, picked as a target a concentration of Taliban troops that had moved into a civilian area and turned the buildings into their garrison.
“Central Command watches these sites, and when intelligence confirms it has become a Taliban military site, it orders a strike,” the official said.
A decision was made to drop one daisy cutter out of a C-130 cargo plane to kill “in the hundreds” of Taliban, the intelligence official said. But in midmission, the pilot was given new coordinates for a target in barren territory where “no confirmed Taliban existed,” the official said.
He said he supported using the weapon, even if dropped near, instead of on, the enemy because the BLU-82’s huge explosion and mushroom cloud can unnerve the opposition.
The official said he believed the target was changed because of a fear that civilians might be killed even though planners had studied the site for days and confirmed it as a military one. He suggested the order to change the target came from Washington.
The official said he was disclosing the mission because the United States lost a chance to eliminate Taliban fighters who he presumes continue to fight today and who may wage a guerrilla war on any new post-Taliban government in Kabul.
The Washington Times submitted detailed questions about the “daisy cutter” mission to spokesmen for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads Central Command and approves each day’s target list. Both spokesmen declined to comment.
Mr. Rumsfeld on Monday told reporters that Gen. Franks has wide latitude to pick targets. He said that in any war, planners must weigh a target’s value against the civilian damage that might be inflicted in a bombing.
The defense secretary said Gen. Franks “has to balance the question of doing the maximum amount to kill people on the ground who might be part of al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, against trying to avoid so much collateral damage and blowing up of mosques and the like, that he ends up creating a feeling against the United States and the coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan. So he makes a series of judgments.”
Pentagon officials say air planners worked hard to avoid hitting civilian targets, even the type of facilities struck in the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the 1998 bombing of Serbia. For example, electrical power stations were prime targets in those two wars but have been avoided in Afghanistan.
When opposition Northern Alliance troops captured Kabul, they found the lights on.
“I don’t think you’ll ever witness a nation that has worked so hard to avoid civilian casualties as the United States has,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday. “It is part of the training, part of the mission, part of the professionalism of the men and women who serve in the armed forces that they work so hard to conduct a war that works so hard to protect innocent lives on the ground.”

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