- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

The Pentagon has selected a target for the first offensive commando mission in Afghanistan and will attack "very soon."
A senior U.S. official says the Bush administration seeks to show the ruling Taliban that it now has the flexibility to attack their forces on the ground after fewer than 10 days of air strikes by U.S. Navy and Air Force aircraft.
The administration is debating whether to announce the first attack after it has been completed, perhaps showing the public videotapes of parts of the mission. This would demonstrate to the nation that Operation Enduring Freedom is making progress against the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist organization.
"We want to show the American public we can deal a blow on the ground to the Taliban," an administration official says.
Pentagon spokesmen have repeatedly cautioned reporters that most special-operations missions in the war on terrorism will never be disclosed. When commandos do strike, they will go in with the awareness that al Qaeda has the knowledge, training and weapons to shoot down American troop-carrying helicopters.
Bin Laden's network trains terrorists in anti-helicopter tactics, and the curriculum covers portable missiles, truck-mounted artillery and grenade launchers. Al Qaeda is believed to have Soviet-made SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles, and perhaps U.S. Stinger missiles left over from the mujahideen's 1980s rebellion against Soviet occupiers. With a ange of 10,000 feet, portable heat-seeking missiles are particularly lethal against low-flying helicopters.
The next layer of defense consists of artillery guns mounted on trucks.
If helicopters escape the missiles and bullets and descend to a lower altitude, they face small-arms fire and grenade launchers that may have been especially reconfigured to explode as they approach an aircraft. "They are really like a machine for killing," said Daoud Mir, the rebel Northern Alliance's special envoy to Washington. Bin Laden is known to travel with a security detail of about 40 fierce loyalists, and commands his own al Qaeda army of roughly 3,000 troops, some of whom may be guarding him.
Bin Laden loyalists showed an ability to down an American chopper in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. When a team of Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers stormed a meeting place of suspected rebels, a bin Laden-trained Somali downed a Black Hawk helicopter using a grenade launcher. In the ensuing firefight, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed.
It was not known at the time, but subsequent intelligence reporting revealed that shortly after U.S. troops entered Somalia in 1992 to feed the starving masses, bin Laden dispatched a top aide to organize resistance. Today, that man, Muhammad Atef, is accused by the United States of organizing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"In 1992 and 1993, Muhammad Atef traveled to Somalia on several occasions for the purpose of organizing violence against United States and United Nations troops then stationed in Somalia," states an evidentiary "white paper" released by the British government. "On each occasion, he reported back to Osama bin Laden, at his base in Riyadh district of Khartoum [Sudan].
"In the spring of 1993, Atef, Saif Al-Adel, another senior member of al Qaeda, and other members, began to provide military training to Somalian tribes for the purpose of fighting the United Nations Forces," the paper states. "On 3 and 4 October 1993, operatives of al Qaeda participated in the attack on U.S. military personnel serving in Somalia. Eighteen U.S. military personnel were killed in the attack."
Richard Shultz Jr., author of "The Secret War Against Hanoi," says the important thing for the Pentagon is to learn from the mistakes of Somalia before sending American covert warriors into Afghanistan. Mr. Shultz, whose book documents the extensive use of commandos in Vietnam, says the Pentagon failed in 1993 to do an appraisal of how the rebels in Mogadishu would fight once challenged by the Rangers.
"The reason they didn't have that framework is these clans fight in irregular, unconventional ways," he said. "We hadn't studied that."
Army helicopters like the Black Hawk and the Apache attack chopper carry countermeasures that can fend off a heat-seeking or radar-guided missile.
The aircraft dispense flares, for example, that draw the incoming missile to a fake heat source. Some new forms of the Soviet SA-7 missile have the ability to discern between flares and the engine heat of a helicopter.
Army officers say the best defense against missiles and ground fire is good intelligence; with it, commandos can land undetected or away from the threats. "You need very good intelligence and an infiltration route selected based on reconnaissance," said one Army source. "There are countermeasures on our helicopters, but no one wants to count on them unless it's a last resort. Gunship escort is a good idea, too."

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