- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

The terrorist network of caves in Afghanistan extends for up to 300 miles and could be resupplied through the frontier with Pakistan, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday after a tour of the war theater.
Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan and Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf assured them that Pakistan will do everything in its power to block supply and escape routes from the caves and tunnels where military authorities expect Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda troops to make a final stand.
According to Mr. Warner, Gen. Musharraf said of the terrorists, "I don't want those people back, even though they're Pakistanis, because they're the very ones that have inspired terrorism in my own country. And I'm at the border right now with my forces on the ground trying to interdict any of these persons coming back into the country."
The caves and tunnels in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan have become the likely last refuge for Taliban and al Qaeda forces, as anti-Taliban troops backed by the U.S. military take control of nearly all other regions of the country. But the senators who visited U.S. and foreign military commanders there in recent days said rooting out the terrorists from their remote mountain hideouts could take several months.
"The Russians were never able to crack those tunnel systems and those caves," Mr. Levin said. "The first issue is the difficulty of finding people in those caves and tunnels. The second difficulty is, because those tunnels are so close to the border with Pakistan, in many cases just a few yards from the border with Pakistan, that there is the … real potential for resupply from supporters in that Pakistan area."
Mr. Levin said Pakistani political leaders and U.S. military commanders believe they can cut off the more than 100 trails that serve as potential resupply routes through the Pakistan frontier to tunnel entrances in Afghanistan.
"There was a high level of confidence that it would be done," he said.
One of the problems with securing that border is that ethnic Pashtuns live on both sides of the boundary, and some of them are sympathetic to the Taliban forces. Mr. Levin said that region of Pakistan is "very difficult to govern."
The senators said anti-Taliban forces of the Northern Alliance will lead the combat in caves, with U.S. forces in a supporting role.
"It will be the anti-Taliban forces leading that assault, with our support, rather than us leading the assault," Mr. Levin said. "And I think that is really important. So that the world of Islam understands that this is a war against terrorism, and that included in the worldwide effort to go after terrorism is most of Islam, and it's the … extremists, it's the fanatics that are the opponent, not Islam itself."
But both men held out the possibility of U.S. ground troops fighting "guerilla warfare" in the caves and tunnels. Mr. Warner compared it with Marines battling Japanese troops in caves on Okinawa in World War II.
"This would not be the first time the United States has encountered that type of warfare," Mr. Warner said.
Both lawmakers said the morale of U.S. troops they visited in the past week was "sky-high."
"They feel well-equipped and well-trained," Mr. Levin said. "They haven't had shortages of equipment. Their equipment has worked. But they also feel the strong support of the American people, and that's very important. They sense that the American people are united behind them, and that is an important part of their morale."


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