ATTACK ON AFGHANISTAN: Military Strategy - Hit-and-Run Tactics More Likely Than Mass Invasion, Say Experts ; the War in Afghanistan Went into a Dramatic New Phase Yesterday
Whitaker, Raymond, The Independent (London, England)
American special forces went into action on the ground for the first time as the anti-terrorism coalition sought to flush out and destroy Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network and their Taliban protectors. The US also suffered its first combat deaths when a search-and-rescue helicopter crashed. "These soldiers will not have died in vain," said President George Bush. On these pages `Independent on Sunday' writers examine the raid and its co...
The campaign in Afghanistan has moved up a level with the first acknowledged raid by special forces, twin "hit-and-run" assaults near Kandahar by about 100 US Rangers. More such attacks are almost certainly imminent.
But military and political analysts told The Independent on Sunday that the conditions do not yet exist for sustained action on the ground by American or British forces.
"Anyone who pictures coalition troops and tanks rolling across the border into Afghanistan has the wrong idea," said Christopher Bellamy, professor of military science at Cranfield University. Such an action might actually be counter-productive, warned Christopher Langton, head of defence analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The biggest risk would be that a large number of coalition forces helps to unite Afghanistan behind the Taliban."
Stepping up action on the ground, however, is essential for the anti- terrorist coalition to maintain momentum. "If you lose momentum," said Mr Langton, "you have lost the war." Two weeks of incessant pounding from the air and more than a month of covert action by small special forces teams has not yet produced the much- needed "lucky break" - a split in the Taliban regime, a crucial defection or betrayal, a chance sighting of Osama bin Laden - which could bring the campaign to a quick and dramatic end.
In the Balkans two years ago, it took 78 days of bombing before Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian regime cracked, suddenly and without warning. With that in mind, the coalition can be expected to keep bombing Afghanistan, even though the medieval regime is harder to hurt from the air and targets are running out.
Unlike the Kosovo campaign, however, it is impossible to conduct the entire operation from 20,000 feet. In the past week, said Mr Langton, the coalition had switched from strategic bombing to tactical attacks, with the deployment of the AC-130 Spectre gunship and strike aircraft like the F-15E, without which special forces operations could not go ahead.
It was never safe enough to use ground forces in the Balkans, and it remains highly risky in the Taliban's heartland, the Pashtun region of southern Afghanistan. "The coalition will continue to hope something will happen which makes it unnecessary to commit ground troops in any number," said Andrew Kennedy, head of the Asia research programme at the Royal United Services Institute. Unless a sudden twist delivers Mr bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida network into the Americans' hands, the analysts said, it may well be necessary to "drain the swamp" - drive the Taliban completely from power, so that the al-Qa'ida leader has nowhere left to hide. …