- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Many die-hard Taliban and al Qaeda operatives have eluded capture by quickly learning and adapting to the United States' hunt-and-destroy techniques, say military personnel.

"They have learned our tactics, and we have to adapt to them," said an Army Special Forces soldier who spent months in Afghanistan trying to find leaders of the ousted Taliban regime.

In a recent speech at the Brookings Institution, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers said: "Since the Taliban has fallen, since the al Qaeda has scattered, mainly to the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and other places in the world, for that matter in the region, since then, they've adapted their tactics, and we've got to adapt ours."

Gen. Myers and other senior officials do not always publicize in what ways the enemy has adjusted, so as not to reveal U.S. countermoves. But interviews with veterans of the campaign in Afghanistan show that al Qaeda operatives and Taliban fugitives learn quickly. Some examples include:

•Taliban leaders ceased using convoys and sport utility vehicles, switching to motorcycles and donkeys, and began traveling alone so as not to draw surveillance.

•These fugitives also move alone in cities, blending in with friendly Afghans. "A Taliban could walk right past and you wouldn't know it," said an Army Green Beret who walked the streets of Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

The soldier estimates that there are still 100 former Taliban leaders who need to be killed or captured to prevent them from organizing a rebel war against Afghanistan's U.S.-backed leader, Hamid Karzai.

•Al Qaeda fighters learned to discern the distinctive sound of the four-engine AC-130 gunships. Early in the war, the "flying battleships" had great success in attacking enemy troops. The enemy also learned to detect the more muffled sound of unmanned Predator spy planes and rapidly moved for cover to avoid deadly Hellfire missiles.

"At night, when these groups heard a Predator or AC-130 coming, they pulled a blanket over themselves to disappear from the night-vision screen," Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the Army's Field Artillery magazine. "They used low tech to beat high tech."

•Al Qaeda leaders greatly reduced their time on telephones and radios after realizing the United States' unmatched technical ability to monitor voice communications. During the summer, the military found a large cache of brand-new satellite phones unused. This signaled that al Qaeda fighters have found other ways to talk without being detected, a Pentagon official said.

•Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives have paid teenage Afghans to act as spies. The agents position themselves outside known U.S. special-operations bases near Kandahar and near Khost in eastern Afghanistan and notify their handlers when special-operations patrols leave the compounds.

In at least two incidents, Green Beret A teams have confronted armed Afghan men who appeared to be following the soldiers. In one case, an officer shot an Afghan who raised his weapon as if to fire. A spokesman for Task Force 180, which commands U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, said that incident has been under investigation by the Army.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has taken steps to tighten the noose around al Qaeda fighters and other terrorists worldwide. He has approved a new counterterrorism war plan that seeks to speed reaction time so terrorists do not have days to adjust.

Last week, he also announced a major promotion for U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla.

He gave the command its first battle staffs in Tampa. With the battle staffs comes new authority to plan and carry out covert strikes against terrorists. The defense secretary also gave the command certain classified intelligence assets that will help it find terrorists and carry out missions within minutes or hours rather than days.

Marine Corps Gen. John F. Sattler, who commands a new counterterrorism task force on the Horn of Africa, said that just the act of collecting intelligence on terrorists keeps them off-guard.

"We feel very confident that by virtue of breathing down their neck, looking at them through multiple intelligence sources and collecting on them through multiple sources, that we are in fact disrupting, keeping them off balance until we can go to that next phase, which is defeat, i.e. bring to justice," he said.


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