US still can't pinpoint Bin Laden : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

US still can't pinpoint Bin Laden

by Robert Fox

Action against Osama bin Laden by American-led special forces remains on hold today because US intelligence still cannot locate him.

Military sources say America may be ready to launch air strikes against the Taliban and general terrorist targets within weeks. But no direct attack on Bin Laden can be scheduled. With President George Bush having prepared America and the world for early military retaliation, persistent delay could become politically embarrassing.

But government sources in London applaud Washington's caution, in being unwilling to move until it is sure it knows what it is attacking. The coalition recognises that it would be a bitter blow to move against Bin Laden and fail.

Preparations could take almost as long as they did for Desert Storm in the Gulf War and would mean operations would be starting in the depths of the Afghan winter with fog and mist blanketing the mountains and halting air operations.

Despite close consultation between London and Washington, Britain and America's close allies are still waiting for a detailed military plan. US strategists may now be considering a campaign in two phases, with quick response from the air followed by a land operation.

No mission statement has been presented to the allies, and according to a senior British military source, this is not likely to happen this week. US military planners are still engaged in the process of "mission analysis", he said. So far some American forces have moved into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on Afghanistan's northern border but not in such numbers as to suggest that an attack is imminent.

Washington has indicated to Britain and Germany that assistance from special forces would be welcome. British Tornado GR4 fighter bombers on exercise in Oman could be made available in a fortnight, so too could elements of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, involved in the same exercise.

The biggest problem facing America and its allies is intelligence and above all information about the precise whereabouts of Bin Laden. He has been reported as being in Pakistan, China and even on his way to a safe haven in Somalia. The mystery of his whereabouts deepened when a statement purporting to come from him was broadcast on a Qatar-based satellite television channel al-Jazeera.

It was characteristically uncompromising towards the US and its allies stating: "We incite our Muslim brothers in Pakistan to deter with all their capabilities the American crusaders from invading Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Although its authenticity was questioned by Western television networks the offices of al-Jazeera in Kabul said they had received the message by fax, and it fitted the pattern of how it had received previous messages from Bin Laden.

The Taliban's spiritual leader, Sheikh Mohammad Omar, said he would support Bin Laden and promised any US attack would be met by an army of 300,000 Taliban fighters. However the real fighting strength of the Taliban is put at much less, around 50,000 according to some local analysts. They have suffered defeats in the field recently, desertion and are now fighting in the south and the north.

Ranged against them is the rebel army of the Northern Alliance, which fields about 15,000 fighters, mostly Tajiks and Uzbeks. They were well grounded in tactics by their charismatic commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, murdered by suicide bombers posing as a television news team, probably on the orders of Bin Laden only a few days before the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The Northern Alliance is being joined by groups of independent fighters such as Ismail Kahn who successfully led the Mujahideen fighters against the Russian occupation in Herat province. He has said he is now preparing to win back Herat from the Taliban with the help of 7,000 of his tribal fighters. However, he has proved notoriously quarrelsome, and over the years has fallen out with most of his allies.

Hundreds of allied aircraft have been moved to the Gulf and Diego Garcia in the past week to display US determination. However, ammunition stocks, spares, and even the right amount of fuel and lubricants are not in place for a sustained air campaign yet.

The main problem in planning a land campaign to defeat the Taliban, the main sponsors of Bin Laden, is the onset of the Afghan winter. Heavy snows will have closed the passes through the Hindu Kush mountains within six weeks.

However, fighting could continue on the plains round the main centres of Taliban power of Kabul and Kandahar. But that means the American allies would have to build temporary bases inside Afghanistan, even to assist a sustained advance by local fighters of the Northern Alliance.

Even if the alliance of Massoud's army with other tribal opponents can defeat the Taliban, it is unlikely they could rule the whole of Afghanistan. The Taliban have shown they will not give up without a fight. They have about 150 working Russian T-55 and T-62 tanks, about 200 good artillery pieces, and up to 50 MiG 21 and MiG 23 aircraft though only about 20 are believed to be in working order.

With allied help the Northern Alliance has been making a steady advance across northern Afghanistan. On Monday they took the key town of Zari, 60 miles south of Mazar-i-Sharif. Mazar has a good airfield which could serve as a forward base for mounting helicopter and air assaults on the Taliban and bin Laden strongholds in the south if the weather allows.

This is a big "if " as the huge barriers of the Hindu Kush lies between Mazar and the capital Kabul, and the strategic provincial centres of Kandahar and Jalalabad. In most of the winter, which is less than two months away, the fog and mist make it almost possible to fly over the mountains by helicopter.

But the real snag in present plans may not be the struggle with the Taliban, but how to manage friends and foes throughout the region, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

-- Swissrose (, September 26, 2001


Plain old "smoke and mirrors". The United States is stalling. If they want Bin Ladin they would have him. " Somethins up" love to all Judy

-- Judy/W (, September 26, 2001.

Maybe, maybe not. From other news reports is seems that this guy is very smart: apparently when he learned that his telephone conversations were being intercepted he went "no tech" meaning he refuses to let ANY electronics near him. Everything is run by trusted individuals as intermediaries. OBL apparently survives by living as close to the lifestyle of a medieval central Asian mountain fighter as he can, at least in terms of communications. He lets others face the external world.

Or, you may be quite correct. Who knows? I doubt any of us on GICC are in a position to know for sure!

(Related point: did anyone catch the documentary "Abandon All Hope: Welcome to Afghanistan" on I think MSNBC cable TeeVee a couple nights ago? Very well done piece by an independent newsman. Gives a good flavor of the place, I thought. If it is played again, I highly recommend it.)

-- Andre Weltman (, September 26, 2001.

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