Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Commander: 'This Is Still a War, Any Way You Cut It'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Commander: 'This Is Still a War, Any Way You Cut It'

Article excerpt

US troops won't be leaving the scarred battlegrounds of Afghanistan any time soon. Far from crumbling after the destruction of the Taliban's national government, Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have proved to be tenacious guerrilla warriors, lying low, launching hit-and run-attacks - and fighting back when confronted.

The commander of US forces in Afghanistan says that the US and its allies fighting the war against terror are "up against an adaptive enemy that has managed to change its operational tactics."

Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill says that Al Qaeda and Taliban forces are avoiding large formations, moving in small groups that like "to snipe at us from a distance and leave the area as quickly as possible."

In western Pakistan yesterday, US allies found out that Al Qaeda fighters are still active - and dangerous. A standoff between Pakistani troops and suspected Al Qaeda militants quickly turned into a firefight that took the lives of 10 soldiers and two men believed to be Chechen members of Al Qaeda.

But while General McNeill made it clear that the Taliban is hiding and engaged in hit- and-run tactics, he also affirmed that heavy US combat units would need to remain in Afghanistan for at least another year to carry out larger operations when needed.

"I think we still need numbers and infantry-type units, US or otherwise," he says. "I do concede this war has moved to certainly an appearance of unconventional warfare. But in unconventional warfare there will still be tactical situations where other types of forces, other than special forces, will be of great utility."

The US military currently has some 7,000 US troops on the ground in Afghanistan with tens of thousands more in the region.

But while US combat forces were still engaged in skirmishes and small battles early this spring, the war has now shifted its focus to training a new Afghan army and engaging in a broad-based "hearts and minds" campaign with the Afghan public.

"Humanitarian assistance is part and parcel of what we're doing here," says the US general. …

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