- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2001

It's been one of the greatest routs in military history, one more resembling the knights fleeing the Killer Rabbit in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" than any kind of orderly retreat.
Yet Taliban leaders say that abandoning the cities and taking the fight to the mountains was always part of their plan. Sure, and throwing away their weapons was just part of the plan to deceive us.
Still, it's important to ask what threat the Taliban may pose as guerrillas. The answer appears to be: Not much.
To succeed, guerrillas need two things.
First, they require support from the population. Mao Tse-tung, in his writings on unconventional warfare, referred to these people as the "water" in which the guerrillas would be the fish.
But as each Afghan village was liberated from the Taliban, the people dancing and listening to music, the men shaving their beards, and the women throwing off the hated burqas showed the contempt the Taliban have engendered.
The puddles will be shallow indeed for these fish.
Second, despite the Hollywood characterization of rebels living off the land and getting all of their weapons from attacks on government forces, guerrillas require outside aid.
Virtually no guerrilla force in history has been able to sustain itself for long periods, much less prevail, without considerable outside help. (Fidel Castro's takeover in Cuba is a rare exception.)
During the Vietnam war, China and the Soviet Union poured massive amounts of weaponry first into North Vietnam and then down the Ho Chi Minh trail into the South. In the war against the Soviets, the Afghans received weapons from the United States and many other countries.
But nobody is going to go to the bat for the Taliban or Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan formerly favored the Taliban, but with India on one side and an already-hostile Afghan people on the other it's not going to risk putting its money on a lame horse. Pakistan also has no sympathy for al Qaeda, which is sworn to bring down all moderate Islamic governments.
This alone is enough to ensure the Taliban won't succeed. But there's more.
The Viet Cong were masters of taking advantage of jungle cover and of building extensive tunnel systems. Caught in the open, they were slaughtered just as our planes have slaughtered exposed Taliban. The Taliban and al Qaeda may try to do the same with Afghanistan's extensive cave system.
But caves aren't tunnels. Tunnels cut into dirt can readily be built to order, with nice tiny openings leading to a deep bomb-proof infrastructure. Caves in solid rock take a tremendous amount of effort to hollow out and the mouths can be widened but not narrowed.
How many habitable cave systems are there in Afghanistan? Estimates vary, but it's a lot. On the other hand, it's also finite. Further, only a limited number of these cave complexes are available for enemy use.
These were extensively mapped out by the Soviets during their war against the Afghans, though the Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles we supplied the rebels kept Soviet planes at bay.
Now the Russians have turned those maps over to us, so we know where the useful caves are. There are few Stingers left in Taliban hands, and we have developed countermeasures against them.
Making matters worse for guerrillas would be that every time one of them enters or exits a cave, whether to set an ambush or order the Afghan version of Domino's pizza, the hideout will be potentially exposed to satellite cameras, reconnaissance aircraft, ground troops and Afghans looking to cash in lucrative rewards.
Our night-vision equipment is incredible, amplifying the light of a few stars into a view that's practically like daylight. (One legacy of the Vietnam War is that the U.S. military has become the best night-fighting force in the world.)
The dreaded oncoming winter we keep hearing about will be our friend. The colder it gets, the brighter the infrared heat signatures at cave openings and ventilation ducts. A fire just big enough to provide warmth for a few men will look like a neon sign reading: "Bomb here."
There are lots of ways to skin this cat.
Caves have yet another disadvantage in that the hard rock makes them easy prey for destruction by a single warhead.
The walls will contain the blast, multiplying the shock wave many times over. Warheads can dropped through the top with those laser-guided "bunker-buster" GBU-28 5,000-pound bombs, or they can be fired in horizontally by F-15s using AGM-130 missiles or various aircraft with AGM-65 missiles.
Whatever the weapon, its destructive power will be vastly disproportionate to its size.
Some caves will have to be entered by troops; casualties will be inevitable. But rarely will there be a need for soldiers to enter caves that haven't already been blown out.
The conclusion: It may be slow and laborious, but each and every cave hideout the Taliban and al Qaeda try to operate out of can be systematically destroyed. The process is already under way.
If the remaining Taliban and terrorists in Afghanistan think they have any chance of winning a guerrilla war, they're wrong. If it's martyrdom they seek, we'll be happy to oblige.

Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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