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[] Smart Weapons gegen Afghanistan?,
Washington Times
October 4, 2001

Bombing Plan Spares Civilian Structures

U.S. 'smart' weapons to single out Taliban

By Rowan Scarborough, The Washington Times 

The Bush administration is putting final touches on a bombing plan against Afghanistan's Taliban militia that will spare civilian infrastructure such as electrical grids, bridges and water supplies, U.S. officials say.

"The 'center of gravity' is not bridges. It's the Taliban," said one administration official, using the military's term for an enemy target.

In previous U.S.-led bombing campaigns, such as those against Iraq and Serbia, the Pentagon worked off a broad, or strategic, target list. Targets included bridges, roads, electrical generators and, in some cases, central water supplies.

Officials say the impending campaign, relying on a growing arsenal of "smart" munitions, will attempt to surgically separate the ruling Taliban militia from Afghan society. Targets include the military that supports the terrorists, along with Taliban headquarters, meeting places and known hide-outs.

President Bush has stopped short of saying his war on terrorism has a goal of removing the Taliban, but officials have indicated that one objective of air strikes will be to destroy the Taliban's command and control capabilities. The destruction would make the regime vulnerable to an uprising from various anti-Taliban factions, most notably the Northern Alliance.

Sparing civilian infrastructure also will allow the Bush administration to show that the strikes are not part of a war against the Afghan people, but rather against the radical Taliban government.

The Taliban admits to harboring Osama bin Laden, who the United States says orchestrated the Sept. 11 hijacked airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Mr. Bush has announced U.S. policy to treat regimes that harbor terrorists the same as the perpetrators themselves.

Another bombing objective is to spur bin Laden, and top members of his al Qaeda terror network, to run. A moving target, officials say, is easier to locate and kill or capture.

"Take away his protectors, the Taliban, and he must run," said one official.

Another administration source said, "Make it so he can't spend the same night in the same place twice."

War strategists have anticipated that bin Laden may be located hiding in a cave. A quick air strike, an official said, could turn the tunnel into bin Laden's permanent tomb.

Taking down the Taliban, an official said, "will send a message to any other government in the world that is even remotely thinking about hosting terrorists on their soil."

The United States has aimed an array of intelligence assets on Afghanistan to create a bombing target list and to locate bin Laden.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday the United States has some indication of bin Laden's whereabouts, but not his "coordinates." Planners would need the coordinates to order an air strike at bin Laden.

In addition to striking Taliban's infrastructure, U.S. and British warplanes would hit military assets such as air defense networks, MiG fighters and tanks.

Also on the list is al Qaeda's large network of terrorist training camps, complete with bunkers and connecting tunnels.

The U.S. military has augmented its arsenal of precision-guided munitions since the 1991 Gulf war. Besides laser-guided weapons and cruise missiles, Air Force bombers carry the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAMs).

The 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs are guided by satellite coordinates, and thus are not subject to poor weather conditions that can misdirect the laser beams.

Pentagon officials say the air war is being planned through a classic chain of command.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, has been drawing up the master target list.

The targets have been submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose Joint Staff, and the military services, have submitted ideas. The list has been briefed several times to Mr. Rumsfeld and the White House.

Mr. Rumsfeld has sent conflicting signals on an air campaign. At one point, he publicly doubted there was much of value to bomb in Afghanistan, an arid, impoverished country locked in destructive civil wars for decades.

Asked on Sept. 18 how he planned to strike Afghanistan, the defense secretary answered, "I think that one has to find ways to alter behavior. And as I've indicated, that runs across the spectrum. You're quite right; Afghanistan is a very poor country. It is a country that has had ? several countries have exhausted themselves pounding that country and fighting. So it is ? there are not great things of value that are easy to deal with."

But that same week, he signed deployment orders sending about 150 Air Force planes to the region, including heavy B-52 and B-1B bombers.

A week later, he described the war on terrorism this way: "It is by its very nature something that cannot be dealt with by some sort of a massive attack or invasion. It is a much more subtle, nuanced, difficult, shadowy set of problems."

In addition to the Air Force aircraft, two Navy carriers are in the area, with two more en route, meaning a potential naval air force of nearly 300 planes.

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