US "lacks knowledge to launch land war" : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

US 'lacks knowledge to launch land war'

By Ahmed Rashid in Lahore (Filed: 19/09/2001)

AMERICAN military action against Afghanistan is unlikely to begin for another four to five weeks because of Washington's lack of knowledge and intelligence about the situation, Western sources said yesterday.

European diplomats with experience of the region are urging America to limit its military campaign and restrict the use of land forces to avoid getting them bogged down in Afghanistan.

"The US armed forces do not have a single soldier or officer who speaks Pushtu [the principal language of the Taliban]," said a senior Western military official. "They will have to first hire hundreds of Pushtu speakers. That shows how much they lack on the ground for this upcoming battle in Afghanistan." Pushtu, or Pashto, is the language of the Pathans and of the Taliban, who come from southern Afghanistan.

Although the US army has people who speak Farsi, or Persian, which is also extensively spoken in central and northern Afghanistan, bin Laden is hiding among Pushtu-speaking Afghans.

According to authoritative reports, before the current crisis the CIA had no agents on the ground inside Afghanistan, and the State Department has no high level contacts with the anti-Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan.

The lack of intelligence stems from Washington's decision effectively to ignore developments in Afghanistan from 1989 after Moscow withdrew its forces. Its only major intelligence source is satellite imagery, which cannot clearly differentiate between Taliban and Arab fighters nor between fighters and civilians.

America is expected therefore to rely on intelligence provided by Afghanistan's neighbours and other allies such as Britain which will take time to collate and evaluate. The key to obtaining intelligence on Taliban and bin Laden troop movements and their whereabouts is the degree to which Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which has been the principal backer of the Taliban, will co-operate with the CIA.

President Pervaiz Musharraf of Pakistan has pledged full co-operation, but with the lack of trust between the ISI and the CIA, Pakistan may well limit what it passes over.

European governments closely allied to America are trying to influence decision-making in the Pentagon to make Washington aware of the dangers of sending large numbers of ground forces into Afghanistan. "The danger is that Washington may be in an overkill mode, without realising the complexities of Afghanistan and the potential to destabilise the region," said a European diplomat.

European defence experts and military attaches hope that America does not attempt an invasion of Afghanistan. British and Soviet invasions were defeated by Afghan guerrilla fighters in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Instead America is hoping to establish military bases in Pakistan and Central Asia. From there, special forces could attack specific targets inside Afghanistan, eliminate their opponents and then return to their bases after a few days. US forces in Pakistan would be based along the border with Afghanistan in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province, which is just 15 minutes' flying time for troop-carrying helicopters to reach many of bin Laden's bases.

US special forces rather than satellite imagery would be used inside Afghanistan to guide aerial and missile strikes, the main American weapon to break up Taliban and Arab groups. The bulk of the war effort is expected to be directed at four provinces in southern Afghanistan - Kandahar, Helmand, Herat and Uruzgun - where the Taliban leadership and bin Laden will try to hide.

"There will be absolutely no point in bombing the cities because they will be evacuated by the time the war starts and the cities are pretty much devastated already," said a European official. "The US may also try to capture an airfield inside Afghanistan and use it as a bridgehead for attacks in the interior of the country. But securing an airfield will mean committing some 20,000 troops just to guard the outer perimeter, which is high risk."

At the same time America will have to enlist Afghans, and arm and fund them to go after the Taliban in the ravines and valleys of the mountainous and desert terrain. In northern Afghanistan the anti-Taliban United Front has already pledged 15,000 fighters to the US-led alliance. If it is given American air cover, its forces could quickly capture the major cities in the north.

However, its forces have little presence in the Pathan belt in the south and it is here that the main war will be fought.

-- Swissrose (, September 19, 2001

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