October 11: Analysis
In Next Phase of Attacks, an Emphasis on Helicopter Strikes
October 10, 2001
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 - The Pentagon is preparing to launch risky raids into Afghanistan using low-flying Army helicopter gunships to find and attack forces allied with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and the Taliban government, two senior Pentagon officials said today.
The helicopters, operated by special operations forces from bases near - but not in - Afghanistan, would be able to strike pockets of forces after the American air and missile strikes have made more progress at wearing down the Taliban's air defenses and other major military targets.
At the same time, the administration is deploying a growing number of special forces to the region who would be in a position to hunt down terrorists, including troops in Uzbekistan, to the north of Afghanistan.
These, however, do not constitute a potential invasion force for Afghanistan, a prospect that Pentagon officials have for now ruled out.
It is not clear how soon the close-in helicopter operations will begin. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers of the Air Force, said today that American fighters and bombers were rapidly establishing air superiority over Afghanistan after three days of strikes, carried out from relatively high altitudes. The risks involved in such strikes were illustrated by the deaths of four men working with the United Nations on a demining operation near Kabul, the capital.
"I think essentially we have air supremacy over Afghanistan," he said. But he acknowledged that "there will always be the antiaircraft fire."
"There's always the possibility of these manned portable surface-to- air missiles," the general added.
Although the Air Force bombers and Navy jets that have been attacking Afghanistan have flown higher than the remaining Afghan weapons can reach and the strikes have hit hard at the few air-defense installations that can fire high-altitude missiles, the helicopters would have no such safety if they swooped in low.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States was "moving along well toward our goal of creating conditions necessary to conduct a sustained campaign to root out terrorists," a reference, a senior official said, to the next phase of the operation, which is continuing around the clock.
Mr. Rumsfeld and General Myers did not elaborate on future operations in a news conference at the Pentagon. But other officials said the war plans included deploying additional forces to southern and central Asia, including specially equipped Blackhawk helicopters and other helicopters designed for special operations.
The helicopters, operated by Army special forces units, are equipped with better night vision and target equipment, measures to protect them from ground fire and the ability to refuel in midair.
They have been used in the past in some of the military's most challenging operations, especially since the Persian Gulf war.
The preparations to use helicopters became known as American aircraft, including 10 heavy bombers, joined by waves of fighter jets flying off carriers in the Arabian Sea, once again struck Taliban air defenses, airfields and what Mr. Rumsfeld called modest concentrations of Taliban troops and other forces on the ground. [News agencies reported further attacks near Kandahar early Wednesday.]
For the first time, General Myers listed the targets struck, 31 on the first day followed by 13 on the second, and provided the first aerial photographs of the damage. That included the destruction of what General Myers said was a terrorist training camp called Garmabak Ghar; a surface-to-air missile battery near Kandahar, in the south; and an airfield in Shindand, in the west.
Officials said the strikes were on a similar scale as those before, though they noted that there were no longer very many significant military targets. The strikes today included the first use of 5,000-pound bombs designed to penetrate hardened bunkers, as well as cluster bombs intended to destroy concentrations of troops or weapons.
The senior Pentagon officials declined to identify the additional forces being deployed, citing the need for secrecy on deployments, bases of operations and missions. Indeed, the officials said, full details may never be disclosed. Even in the Pentagon command center, special forces operations are discussed only in a separate area.
But the officials' remarks indicated that the helicopter gunships were part of the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which has two battalions at Fort Campbell, Ky., and a third at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.
The 160th, the sole large Army unit specially trained for such a mission at night and in bad weather, has been involved in many major military operations. It is trained to deploy anywhere in the world in days or even hours. Its helicopters can be ferried in cargo planes.
The officials also declined to discuss the potential bases from which the forces would operate. The Pentagon has ordered a third carrier, the Kitty Hawk, to the region without its full component of fighter jets and other aircraft. But even if it served as a base for special operations troops, its location in the Arabian Sea would be hundreds of miles away.
The Army helicopters can fly several hundred miles after refueling. But that makes their missions even more dangerous, and targets in the north of Afghanistan would be practically inaccessible.
The Pentagon has also deployed nearly 1,000 troops, including an enhanced infantry battalion from the 10th Mountain Division, to a former Soviet air base near Karshi, in Uzbekistan, about 100 miles from the Afghan border. Those troops are providing security for a relatively small contingent of search-and-rescue and special-reconnaissance forces, something that President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has agreed to permit. In public, Mr. Karimov has ruled out allowing special operations forces to strike from Uzbek territory, saying, "We are not quite ready for this."
Some American officials have suggested that the agreement might be elastic enough to allow them to mount operations to search for Mr. bin Laden from Uzbekistan.
With the Taliban air defenses more or less impaired, American pilots have also turned their attention to what officials at the Pentagon are calling emerging targets, including small groups of forces, tanks or other equipment being moved after of the initial strikes.
Noting that some F-14's and F/A- 18's have returned to the carriers in the Arabian Sea still clutching their bombs and missiles, officials said there have so far been relatively few of the emerging targets.
One American airman, a B-1 weapons systems officer, said he was surprised when his superiors changed his targets after his plane was aloft. "All the planes are retargetting at a moment's notice," said the officer, who was made available for a telephone interview by Pentagon officials and identified only by the call-sign Morning.
In London, a senior British defense official, echoing Pentagon planners, said the purpose of the attacks so far on Afghanistan was to condition the environment "so that there is less risk of damage to our own people, our own aircraft" in future deployments. Britain has already said the deployment of ground troops is an option, and it has made frequent use of special forces in the past.
Although the United States could launch helicopter raids on its own, a defense official said, the strikes could also be coordinated with the forces in Afghanistan opposed to the Taliban, including the Northern Alliance, as well as opposition groups in southern Afghanistan.
As the U.S.-led coalition bombed targets in Afghanistan with high-technology weapons for the third day this week, India and Pakistan are jockeying for power and influence in the rapidly realigning dispensation in that country.
NEW DELHI, Oct 10 (IPS) - As the U.S.-led coalition bombed targets in Afghanistan with high-technology weapons for the third day this week, India and Pakistan are jockeying for power and influence in the rapidly realigning dispensation in that country.
The rival South Asian countries hope to make maximum gains from rapid shifts in Afghanistan's complex military balances -- and want a prominent role in any coalition that would replace the Taliban.
Their Afghan manoeuvres have exacerbated their contradictory positions on the thorny issue of Kashmir and launched a whole new sideshow in the ''anti-terrorist'' drama now being played out.
Most recent attempts to cap India-Pakistan rivalry have been unsuccessful. The latest was a Monday night telephone call from Pakistan's president, Gen Pervez Musharraf, to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
This sought to allay Indian concerns about Islamabad's involvement in an Oct. 1 suicide bomb explosion in Srinagar, which killed at least 39 civilians. It is doubtful if Musharraf succeeded.
Just hours earlier, in a press conference in Islamabad, Musharraf had raised the issue of a post-Taliban arrangement. He warned against favouring the Northern Alliance (or United Front). The Northern Alliance, comprised of numerous guerrilla groups, including forces of the recently assassinated commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, bitterly opposes the Taliban and has fought it fiercely over the past seven years.
The Alliance right now controls just about a tenth of Afghanistan's land area, but has wide representation of ethnic groups, barring the Pashtuns, who are about two-fifths of the Afghan population.
This was Islamabad's first public demand for a future role in Afghanistan. Talking of a power ''vacuum'' as the Taliban regime unravels, Musharraf demanded that the Northern Alliance should not be allowed to fill it because it represents only ''ten percent of Afghanistan''.
He asserted that Pakistan's Pashtun interests must be duly considered in the formation of a post-war government. (There are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.)
Musharraf's insistence that the Northern Alliance must not ''draw mileage out of'' the current anti-Taliban campaign derives from the Pakistani state's keenness to retain decisive influence over any regime that succeeds the Taliban.
Two days before the aerial bombing began Sunday, Musharraf extracted a categorical assurance from British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Pakistan has ''a valid interest in à any arrangement for a future regime'' in Afghanistan that must adequately represent the Pashtuns. (The Taliban is almost entirely Pashtun in composition.)
By all available indications, Islamabad would be loathe to destroy the Taliban apparatus, consisting of 30,000 guerrilla fighters and its top hierarchy, many members of which were trained by its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
It would much rather retain the core of it, including leaders of the three apparatuses that really matter -- the nine-member military high command, and the Kandahar and Kabul 'shurras' or councils headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar. The London-based 'Guardian' newspaper that the ISI plans to assassinate Mullah Omar and replace him with someone more pliable.
Islamabad would certainly want to preserve much of the Taliban organisation and personnel. The ISI has invested heavily in the Taliban and has been the Taliban's main source of military training, arms and finance. It militarily insinuated the Taliban into Afghanistan in the first place. Seven years ago, the Taliban's troops overran Kandahar with ISI support, and have since grown through its patronage.
According to well-documented accounts such as Ahmed Rashid's awarding-winning book 'Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia', the ISI also put the Taliban in touch with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in 1996.
This collaboration is important, indeed organic, to both groups. Al-Qaeda's own 5,000 fighters, called Brigade V-55, have been integrated into the Taliban's operational forces. Within Afghanistan, the two are militarily inseparable.
However, Musharraf would like to limit the ''war against terrorism'' to destroying the al-Qaeda network but in such a way that the Taliban is not decimated, but accommodated in power. Within the U.S.-led alliance, his strategy appears to have prevailed over genuinely ''anti-terrorist'' approaches.
No broad-based coalition in Afghanistan can afford to ignore the Pashtun group. But it also cannot afford to ignore the other 15 ethnic groups, especially the northern and northeastern Tajiks, the central and western Hazaras, and the northwestern Uzbeks, who account for 60 percent of Afghanistan's population.
The Northern Alliance has said it will soon convene a broad-based assembly or 'loya jirga' of different tribal groups. But it is not clear which Pashtun groups -- and there are many -- will join such a council, leading to a new government. Much will depend on the pace at which the Taliban regime collapses, and the military advances the Northern Alliance makes.
The Northern Alliance is supported by Russia, which is its main source of armaments, Iran and India. Today, it is coordinating its military plans with the U.S.-backed coalition using the bombing campaign as air cover for its own ground troops.
It is on this Northern Alliance that New Delhi wishes to build its strategy. It wants the Northern Alliance 's role enhanced. It is a sure bet that both India and Pakistan will want to be in any future condominium of states that determines or guarantees the future of Afghanistan, through, or independently of the United Nations.
Other features of the India-Pakistan rivalry have also been accentuated by recent developments. New Delhi is greatly disconcerted by Pakistan's inclusion into the U.S.-led coalition as a frontline state. Pakistan is in the ''inner'' concentric circle close to the states conducting the military attacks. Pakistan's airspace and intelligence support are vital to them.
India is in the ''outer'' circle, beyond the peripheral ring of Islamic and Arab states that the United States is wooing. India regards Pakistan as a sponsor of ''cross-border terrorism'' in Kashmir. And it has itself been courting the United States to become its ''most allied ally'' in South Asia, and a potential ''counterweight'' to China.
New Delhi was extremely upset at the Oct. 1 Srinagar bombing, responsibility for which was claimed by the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, whose leaders are based in Pakistan. A week ago, India warned Pakistan that its ''patience'' was running out. It lobbied the United States, Britain and France against Pakistan's support to Kashmiri militants.
One result of this has been Western pressure on Musharraf to drop the head of the ISI, Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed, on Monday. Ahmed is said to have been close to the Taliban. A critical input into his sacking appears to be his failure to warn against the Oct. 1 attack, and his suspected link with Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Jaish-e-Mohammed militant who is believed to have remitted 100,000 U.S. dollars to Mohammed Atta, a prime suspect in the World Trade Centre bombing, just before Sep. 11.
Western goading also persuaded Musharraf to telephone Vajpayee on Monday to convey his concern about the Srinagar bombing, promise an inquiry into it, and offer to resume the now-interrupted India-Pakistan dialogue. Whether this leads to more friendly exchanges, or greater suspicion, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the danger of any escalation of tension between South Asia's nuclear rivals is only too clear. Questions have arisen over the fate of the Musharraf government, which faces far-from-controllable mass protests in anger over the U.S.-led attacks. Increased strife or civil war in Pakistan, and a weakening or collapse of the regime, could suddenly destabilise the entire region.
DESHITIQALA, Afghanistan, Oct 11 (Reuters) - How does Afghanistan's ragtag opposition force fund its campaign against the ruling Taliban?
By selling emeralds and printing money, it seems.
General Baryalai, a senior commander in the Northern Alliance movement locked in civil conflict with the hardline Islamic Taliban, spoke with great pride this week about the quality of the Afghan gemstone.
"Our emeralds are the best in the world," he said over a lunch -- lavish by local standards -- in his remote base in northern Afghanistan.
"They are better than those in Colombia."
The urbane officer explained that there were two main production centres controlled by the opposition -- Safed Cher and Khench, both in the north of the Panjsher district.
The Alliance controls the very northeast of Afghanistan and the Panjsher Valley, which runs south towards the capital of Kabul.
"In the north of the Panjsher, people just carry them around for sale. Rough emeralds can go for anything from $1,000 to $2,000 to millions," he boasted, enjoying the attention of a small group of journalists invited to lunch.
"But a huge stone which goes for $3 million here can fetch $10 million when polished and cut."
He estimated that emerald sales raised $40 million to $60 million for the opposition campaign each year, mainly for arms from Russia and equipment from countries including China.
The mathematics may not be 100 percent accurate. Baryalai also said the Northern Alliance had 120,000 soldiers -- including a large reserve force. This is several times bigger than most Western intelligence estimates.
LICENCE TO PRINT MONEY
The other main source of cash is money.
The afghani, the local currency, is printed in Russia and changed back into dollars, which are then used to buy military hardware.
"We print money," he said, when asked how the opposition funded itself. He said the amount printed was strictly limited to avoid inflation.
Not that there is much danger of that at the moment. In the nearby town of Khoja Bahawuddin, the dollar is now worth 65,000 afghanis, compared with 130,000 two weeks ago.
The sharp rise has been attributed to the positive news for the alliance of the U.S. air strikes against the Taliban -- and the influx of Western journalists queuing up to change money.
He played down reports of U.S. and Russian support for the opposition, saying Russian tanks on display at a nearby training camp were bought on the market and were not gifts.
But he did hint that they may have been subsidised.
"The good thing is that we buy guns and ammunition at a cheap price," Baryalai said.
The Taliban is giving the broadcaster releases and interviews because it trusts it more than Western networks. And while decrying its broadcast of Osama bin Laden tapes, President Bush is eager to have pro-U.S. interests represented on it as well.
With its special access to Afghanistan, the Arabic-language Satellite News Channel has been edging out the BBC and CNN in its distinctive coverage of the Sept. 11 attack and the U.S.-led retaliation.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared on Al Jazeera in an interview broadcast Tuesday in what his spokesman in London described as a reply to comments made by Bin Laden and his aides on the same station Sunday.
"Let us be clear, when we listen to the words of Osama bin Laden, if he has his way, the regimes that he would replace regimes in the Arab world with would be like the Taliban regime in Afghanistan," Blair said.
The interview in London was broadcast with a voice-over in Arabic.
Al Jazeera's frequent showing of Bin Laden footage prompted the United States last week to raise concerns about the station's coverage during a meeting with the emir of Qatar in Washington. The station has defended its policy, saying Bin Laden is a party to the conflict.
Al-Jazeera, which has been bringing news to the Middle East for five years, started as the first Arabic independent news channel in a region where the airwaves were dominated by government outlets. The TV channel's chairman, Hamid bin Thamer al-Thani is a member of the ruling family of the small oil-rich kingdom of Qatar and a professional journalist, who graduated from Qatar University with a degree in communications.
"Al-Jazeera is one of the main players in the Islamic world as the only news channel to have a bureau both in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Yosri Fouda, Al-Jazeera investigative correspondent and London bureau chief said. "Presently the Taliban leaders regard us as the only independent window message through to the world.
"You could say we are lucky, if you want to use that word, since the Taliban leaders are sending us faxes about their position since they do not trust Western media. A fax sent to us a few days ago by Osama bin Laden made headlines; the CIA came to us to compare his signature. We have also sold an interview that we made with bin Laden three years ago to channels all over the world at $35,000 for each copy."
Al-Jazeera's uncensored coverage of the region has angered enough Arab TV stations to keep it out of the Arab States Broadcasting Union. Despite criticism from Egyptian TV (which finds itself competing with the popularity of Al-Jazeera), it was the first station to sign up in Cairo's Media City, and its Cairo bureau has been active in the coverage of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We broadcast six hours before ABC and CNN the interview with the father of the accused Egyptian hijacker Mohamed Atta, and we were the first to interview the Arab League leaders and people on the street for their reactions," Al-Jazeera Cairo bureau chief Hussein Abdul Ghani noted.
Al-Jazeera has 35 bureaus, including two in the U.S. -- Washington, D.C., and New York. A major buyer of programming at TV markets, it has much global grounding attributable to its dynamic managing director, Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali.
"Jazeera has forced Arab national TV to get real in its news coverage for the first time and has broken through as a major player in global news," commented professor Abdallah Schleifer, director of Cairo's American University Adham Center for Broadcasting.
"In its aggressive pursuit of news, Al-Jazeera has achieved a goal of international standards and a wake-up call, often disturbing in its vital independence, to all the news channels in the Gulf region."
Al-Jazeera has a string of international awards such as the Prince Claus Fund in Amsterdam for "increasing freedom of the press in the developing world" and a prize by the National Council for Media in Lebanon for coverage of the Israeli pullout in that country.
Plans to broaden audience appeal include starting business and documentary channels in both Arabic and English.
Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB recently pacted with Al-Jazeera to broadcast in the U.K. beginning Oct. 1. According to Fouda, "This is a positive, but controversial, move as people will have to get used to paying to watch us and so will be initially restrictive for the audience."
"The difference between Al-Jazeera and the Western media is that we concentrate on Arab news and Arab issues. CNN and BBC may cover news here, but through their own angle," Al-Ali says. "Ultimately, we come from an Arab perspective rather than a global perspective."
The five major television news organizations reached a joint
agreement yesterday to follow the suggestion of the
White House and abridge any future videotaped statements from Osama bin Laden or his followers to remove language the government considers inflammatory.
The decision, the first time in memory that the networks had agreed to a joint arrangement to limit their prospective news coverage, was described by one network executive as a "patriotic" decision that grew out of a conference call between the nation's top television news executives and the White House national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, yesterday morning.
The five news organizations, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, along with its subsidiary, MSNBC, the Cable News Network and the Fox News Channel all had broadcast, unedited, a taped message from Mr. bin Laden on Sunday. On Tuesday, the all-news cable channels, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, also carried the complete speech of a spokesmen for Al Qaeda.
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, indicated in his news
briefing yesterday that Ms. Rice was primarily
concerned that terrorists could be using the broadcasts to send coded messages to other terrorists, but the network
executives said in interviews that this was only a secondary consideration.
They said Ms. Rice mainly argued that the tapes enabled Mr. bin Laden to vent propaganda intended to incite hatred and potentially kill more Americans.
The executives said that they would broadcast only short parts
of any tape issued by Al Qaeda and would eliminate
any passages containing flowery rhetoric urging violence against Americans. They agreed to accompany the tapes with reports providing what they called appropriate context.
They also agreed to avoid repeatedly showing excerpts from the
tapes, which they had previously done in what one
executive described as "video wallpaper."
One network, ABC, said it would limit the use of moving images
from tapes released by Mr. Bin Laden or Al Qaeda, mostly relying on a still
picture from a frame of the tape and the printed text of whatever message
The coverage of the aftermath of the terrorists attacks on New York and the Pentagon has generated intense competitive pressure among the television news organizations, which has increased this week as the news divisions labored to find images to continue documenting American attacks on Afghanistan.
The tapes have been broadcast by the Arabic language satellite
network Al Jazeera and picked up by the American
The news executives said they had never previously consulted
one other en masse and come to an agreement on a
policy about coverage.
But they said the current circumstances were unlike any others they had encountered.
"This is a new situation, a new war and a new kind of enemy,"
said Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News.
"Given the historic events we're enmeshed in, it's appropriate to explore new ways of fulfilling our responsibilities to the public."
The presidents of the news divisions all said that Ms. Rice had not tried to coerce them.
"She was very gentle, very diplomatic, very deft," said Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News.
Walter Isaacson, the chairman of CNN, said, "It was very
useful to hear their information and their thinking." He
added, "After hearing Dr. Rice, we're not going to step on the land mines she was talking about."
Mr. Isaacson did not specify what information Ms. Rice had provided that led to the executives' decision.
"Her biggest point," said Neal Shapiro, the president
of NBC News, "was that here was a charismatic speaker who
could arouse anti- American sentiment getting 20 minutes of air time to spew hatred and urge his followers to kill
The notion that Mr. bin Laden was sending messages to followers
through the tapes seemed less than credible to
several of the executives.
"What sense would it make to keep the tapes off the air
if the message could be found transcripted in newspapers or on the Web?"
said one network executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The
videos could also appear on
the Internet. They'd get the message anyway."
The unusual interaction between the White House and television
executives was set up late Tuesday evening when
Ms. Rice called each executive. They gathered in their offices at 9 a.m. for the conference call.
She spoke with them for about 20 minutes, explaining her reservations
about allowing Mr. bin Laden such access to
American television. A White House official familiar with the phone call said Ms Rice had two concerns: that the
messages would reach any remaining terrorist cells in the United States and would also inflame Muslim populations in such places as Malaysia and the Philippines, who would see the tapes through international channels of CNN and NBC.
Ms. Rice answered questions. Then she hung up. But the executives
had agreed before the call to stay on the line
and talk among themselves.
The networks were not the first news organizations to acquiesce
to an administration requests to edit or withhold
Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor of The Washington Post,
said yesterday that "a handful of times" in the past month, the
newspaper's reporting had prompted calls from administration officials who
"raised concerns that a
specific story or more often that certain facts in a certain story, would compromise national security."
Mr. Downie added, "In some instances we have kept out of
stories certain facts that we agreed could be detrimental
to national security and not instrumental to our readers, such as methods of intelligence collection."
Clark Hoyt, the Washington editor of Knight Ridder, said his
organization had decided to hold back a report about
"some small units of U.S. special operations forces had entered Afghanistan and were trying to locate bin Laden"
within two weeks of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Howell Raines, the executive editor of The New York Times, said that since Sept. 11, Times executives had not had any conversations with government officials about the handling of sensitive information.
Mr. Raines said: "Our longstanding practice has been that
if a high government official wants to talk to us about
security issues, we're available for that conversation. We also would feel free to seek guidance if there was
information in our judgment that might be sensitive."
The networks' decision has not raised serious protests among
television journalists. Ted Koppel, the ABC
"Nightline" anchor, said, "If we want to run some of the videotape, our understanding is we're still free to do it."
But, Mr. Koppel said, the videotapes by and large have not been compelling enough for long showings.
The CBS anchor, Dan Rather, said: "By nature and experience,
I'm always wary when the government seeks in
any way to have a hand in editorial decisions. But this is an extraordinary time. In the context of this time, the
conversation as I understand it seems reasonable on both sides."