FROM THE outset this was going to be a long and messy war, against a shadowy and resilient foe. And this weekend the US publicly unsheathed two new weapons: grainy pictures of commando units going in on the ground in Afghanistan, and official word that the CIA, complete with every dirty trick at its disposal, is joining the fray.
"The gloves are off," unnamed senior officials told the Washington Post, disclosing that President Bush has given the CIA the green light to do whatever is necessary to eliminate Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida network - "lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-11 September are now under way".
The Agency has been handed an extra $1bn (pounds 700m) to fight terrorism: in effect, the 35-year-old ban on political assassinations has been lifted.
As Americas's onslaught against Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan enters its third week, a complex mosaic of operations is emerging, fought from the air and on the ground. Continuing strikes from the air, not so much against fixed installations as against "emerging targets" flushed out by the bombing and the destruction of communications networks, constitute some pieces of this mosaic.
A second element is carefully calibrated activity in support of the opposition Northern Alliance, to which the US is providing money, weapons and some logistical backing on the ground. And now, as a new chapter in the war opens, there are the acknowledged operations by American and British special forces.
Some will be spun off the campaign of the Alliance, using the latter's intelligence on the Taliban and the airfields and other facilities the Alliance controls. Others - like those disclosed over the weekend by the Pentagon and which may well be ongoing - will take the form of raids in southern, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, aimed at Mr bin Laden and the high command of the regime which protects him, but also designed to sow dissent in Taliban ranks.
But to what extent is this strategy succeeding? For all the eerily dramatic greeny-black pictures of paratroopers floating down through the skies around Kandahar, scant operational detail has been revealed by the Pentagon.
According to US spokesmen, the attacks against the compound of Mullah Mohammed Omar in the city, and on an airfield some 60 miles to the south west of Kandahar, met only "light resistance". General Richard Myers, the joint chiefs chairman, insisted that the aim was to gather intelligence, rather than kill or capture terrorists and their protectors.
Apart from the two servicemen killed and three wounded when a Black Hawk helicopter crash-landed in Pakistan, the only casualties were on the enemy side. The Taliban naturally paint a different picture, claiming to have shot down the helicopter and to have killed 20 to 25 US troops.
Another piece in the puzzle is the report in yesterday's Washington Post by Bob Woodward, doyen of journalists …