English special forces troops are preparing to join American special forces in a swoop aimed at devastating terrorist training camps in Afghanistan under plans for a swift retaliation for last week?s terrorist attacks on the U.S., according the the British newspaper, the Telegraph.
Air Strikes on Osama bin Laden?s strongholds could begin within a week, according to U.S. officials. One officer in the British security services says that action will start ?within days.? The air assault – along with cruise missile attacks – will soften up targets before elite troops go in on search and destroy missions.
Troops are being briefed during the biggest military build-up since the Gulf War. Soldiers will be dropped in by helicopter to seal off and destroy at least six sites believed to be used by bin Laden supporters, in plans drawn up by military strategists. The special forces attacks will follow an initial wave of cruise missile strikes, followed by a wave of carpet bombing to soften up their targets.
The first retaliatory strike is likely to be a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles from destroyers supporting the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vincent, currently in the Gulf. The warship will move east, along with more than 10 surface ships and a nuclear submarine, to a position off Pakistan.
Strategists have identified at least six training camps and military bases for the attack. First on the list is the hideaway at Shar-i-Nau, a suburb of Kandahar, which in January was the last place bin Laden was sighted. Also in line for air raids are sites at Farmada outside Jalalabad, Darunta in Nangahar, bases near Khost and Kabul and a remote bunker hidden in the Hindu Kush mountains in the north-east of Afghanistan.
Strikes against targets in Afghanistan are seen as only part of the U.S. war against terrorism. Offensives against other targets, most specifically Saddam Hussein in Iraq, were understood to be under preparation last night.
The key to success in Afghanistan is establishing bases in neighboring Pakistan or Tajikistan to unleash special forces units into attack. Pakistan has finally agreed to cooperate fully with the U.S., while Tajikistan has so far refused to allow the U.S. to set up bases there.
Special forces – including airborne units from America?s Special Operations Command – are the best way to launch a ground assault while avoiding the danger of being drawn into a long conflict with guerrilla forces in mountain territory. The strike force would stay no longer than a few days.
A Pentagon official says, ?We do not see this as a repeat of the Soviet attempt to conquer the country in the 1980s or the British during the 19th century. We do not want to occupy.? Taliban rulers will be told that if they use military force to oppose the strikes on bin Laden, their bases will also be targeted in the offensive.
Bin Laden?s movements are now under 24-hour scrutiny by spy satellites and his communications are monitored by electronic eavesdropping devices, say intelligence officials. The CIA has paid Afghan tribesmen to watch for the armored vehicles in which bin Laden travels and to report back, although American officials acknowledge that it is extremely hard to keep track of his entourage in the rugged mountainous terrain.
The events in Afghanistan are bringing Washington and Moscow into a possible military alliance against their common enemy, bin Laden. Twenty years ago, the U.S. backed the bin Laden against the Soviet occupying force.
America is negotiating with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who despises bin Laden because of his support for Islamic militants and terrorists in Chechnya and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. U.S. intelligence sources say that Russia may be able to convince Russia?s ally, Tajikistan, which is situated on Afghanistan?s northern border, to allow the U.S. to set up bases there.
Putin may be able to provide reports from his own spies on bin Laden?s whereabouts. There could also be offers to join an American commando invasion force for a joint Russian-American effort to capture or kill the terrorist and the use of Russian helicopter pilots, some of whom know the tortuous terrain from the days of the Soviet invasion.
The U.S. already has plenty of firepower within striking range, with cruise missile-armed warships from the 5th and 7th fleets and a nuclear submarine in the Gulf and Indian Ocean. Further air-launched missiles could be delivered from B-52 bombers using the island of Diego Garcia as a staging post. British aircraft, including Tornado bombers armed with laser-guided bombs and Nimrod surveillance aircraft, are also based in Gulf states.
The US has more than 46,000 troops available. Most likely to be involved in attacking the landlocked, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan is the U.S. Army?s Delta Force. Other special force units that could be called in include the 160th Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, and the 75th Ranger Regiment.
U.S. troops are expected to be brought in by powerful CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, which are capable of carrying up to 80 fully armed personnel and able to be refueled by Hercules tanker aircraft.
A senior Pentagon official says that ?pinpoint air strikes? without ground attacks – similar to those used against bin Laden in the past – are not an option. ?The strategy this time is we are going to go in hard and we are going to get it right. The political and public will is there. We know there will be casualties if we send troops in and we are prepared to accept that after what happened on Tuesday.?
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