- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

Retired Russian Col. Gen. Viktor Kot, 61, former commander of the Soviet air force who served two tours in Afghanistan from 1981-1982 and 1985-1987, was recently interviewed by special correspondent Yuri Karash for The Washington Times.

Gen. Kot, who made about 700 flights in MiG-21 fighter-bombers over the war zone of which 467 were combat sorties was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the Soviet state's highest award, in 1982. He retired last year as first deputy chief of staff of the Russian air force, and currently works as a senior adviser to the governor of the Moscow region.

Question: How effective are pinpoint strikes in the conditions of Afghanistan?

Answer: Pinpoint strikes are always effective when they are directed against meaningful targets. However, there are very few such targets in Afghanistan.

Of all the Afghan cities, only Kabul has administrative buildings where some of the Taliban leadership could be located. As for so-called "terrorist bases" in the common sense of this word, they do not exist in the territory of Afghanistan. There are small, highly mobile groups of a few dozen people each. Destroying them will be extremely difficult. We [the Soviets] used a lot of "smart weapons," including rockets, laser-guided bombs and heat-seeking missiles, but were never certain that we really hit anybody.

Q: What would be the major challenges for U.S. ground-attack and bomber pilots in Afghanistan?

A: These groups of terrorists are highly successful in using natural [terrain], and they are very good in making false bases designed to mislead air and ground attackers. Afghan fighters have learned a lot about camouflage during the last 20 years of continuous fighting first against the Soviets and then during the civil war.

Besides, the mujahideen often attack at night and quickly leave the place from where they launched their attack, which makes it really difficult to respond with retaliatory strikes.

So, the first challenge is the absence of open, clearly visible targets.

The second challenge is that in order to determine targets for high-precision weapons, one should have intelligence information obtained not only from radio, electronic, air and space means of reconnaissance, but also from agents located in the territory of Afghanistan.

However, you can never be sure how trustworthy the information you get from local Afghans is about targets. These agents often can't properly find even their own bearings. Sometimes, they also try to deflect air strikes from the ground targets. The Afghan people fight foreign invaders much better and more willingly than each other.

The third challenge is how to make a surprise air strike. Based on my own war experience, I can say that the Taliban definitely have early warning posts located along the borders of Afghanistan. These sentries use all kind of methods not necessarily electronic but also rudimentary sound and light alarms to warn the Taliban fighters of approaching aircraft. These fighters then quickly disperse, greatly diminishing the effectiveness of an air strike.

As for Talib anti-aircraft defense, I would not regard it seriously. It does not pose any threat to a modern military aircraft. The aircraft may be hit by Taliban anti-aircraft fire only by accident.

Q: How long should the bombing of Afghan territory last? Should it continue after the start of land operations?

A: Definitely, yes. Moreover, the bombing should become heavier after the beginning of such operations, particularly when airfields in Afghan territory become available to U.S. troops.

Combat helicopters must be employed as soon as they can operate from the territory of Afghanistan.

Q: What will be the best way for interaction between U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan and air support?

A: Even small groups of U.S. special forces will desperately need very strong air support. This support will literally have to burn the way for them through the Taliban troops. I would advise that each ground unit operating in Afghanistan have an air unit assigned to it, and that the two constantly stay in close touch. This is how they would assure effective coordination of their actions.

Q: Do you believe that the United States did adequate preparation for its military action against the Taliban?

A: In order to be successful in the conditions of Afghanistan, any military action must be a blitzkrieg otherwise it will turn into a long, bloody, exhausting war for both sides.

Keep in mind that a lot of Afghan people don't really see a big difference between the Northern Alliance and Taliban, but they clearly see it between the locals and the foreigners. The longer the battle lasts, the more Afghans will turn their weapons on the invaders, no matter what goals the latter are seeking in the territory of Afghanistan.

The Americans should not have advertised their military operation against Taliban for so long. From my point of view, it was a mistake to negotiate with the Taliban leadership about the fate of [suspected terrorist mastermind Osama] bin Laden. Both the Taliban and bin Laden took advantage of this period to regroup their forces and prepare their resistance to U.S. invasion, including U.S. air strikes.

Q: What is your major concern regarding anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan?

A: I have two major concerns. The first one is that the United States will get bogged in the fight with the Taliban and the war against terrorists will become a war against the Afghan people.

My second concern is that the Americans may stop halfway in their battle against the Taliban if the latter surrender bin Laden. If the United States does not finish the Taliban whatever it costs, Taliban leaders and militants will become like a disturbed swarm of bees that will fly out of Afghanistan and create their nests all over the world.

This won't eliminate terrorism but just spread it around the globe.

Q: What advice based on your own combat experience would you give to American pilots?

A: First, be flexible when going on a raid into Afghanistan. Keep in mind that the target you intend to bomb may turn out to be a false one, or will quickly disperse or move to another location before you reach it. Always have backup targets and be prepared to literally chase terrorist gangs.

Second, take maximum care of yourselves during your sorties. Don't think that the outcome of the battle against the Taliban depends on your particular mission. There is no need for taking risks, or especially for any self-sacrifice. Regard your missions as regular training exercises. The destiny of Taliban is already sealed.

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