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[infowar.de] Guardian 31.01.01: Confusion over war's next phase as ground attack stalls
Confusion over war's next phase as ground attack stalls
· PM says he will 'neither flinch nor falter'
· But military warn of real problems in Afghanistan
· US said to be 'desperate' about what to do next
Richard Norton-Taylor, Vikram Dodd and Julian Borger in Washington
Wednesday October 31, 2001
British and American troops are being prevented from conducting any meaningful operations on the ground against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden because of a lack of knowledge about conditions in Afghanistan, defence sources admitted yesterday.
With the government showing increasing signs of impatience at the failure to make a breakthrough after three weeks of air strikes in which more than 3,000 bombs have been dropped on the country, the sources said there was an "an intelligence vacuum".
Amid a growing realisation that the lightning attack by US airborne troops into Afghanistan captured on grainy video this month was little more than a public relations exercise, there is also increasing concern and frustration in Washington about the way the military campaign is going. "The Americans are very desperate about what to do next," another well-placed defence source told the Guardian.
"Before you send forces in you have to understand the environment in terms of the terrain, the weather, the lines of sight," a senior defence official said.
"It's all very well having satellite imagery from the sky, but you need people to smell the ground, preparing and understanding the ground before you commit."
Military chiefs want more information on the the Taliban's troops, their locations, numbers and their reconnaissance capabilities.
"Before we commit human beings to a life-threatening situation we have a moral duty to be sure we understand the risks and that we have alternative plans if something goes wrong," the source said.
The military explanation for the perceived lack of progress came as Tony Blair tried to counter the sense of drift in the conduct of the war and as fresh evidence showed that public opinion is moving in favour of a bombing pause.
An ICM poll in yesterday's Guardian showed a cooling in support for the war, with 62% saying they were in favour, a 12-point drop in just over two weeks. But probably more significant was the 54% who wanted a halt to attacks to get aid convoys into Afghanistan.
Mr Blair, in a speech in Cardiff, reaffirmed allied objectives and insisted he would "neither flinch nor falter".
The prime minister acknowledged that people were concerned about civilian casualties and the refugee crisis. "All these concerns deserve to be answered. No one who raises doubts is an appeaser or a faint heart," he said.
He urged the public to "go back to why we are in this conflict", adding: "On September 11, thousands of people were killed in cold blood in the worst terrorist attacks the world has ever seen. That is a fact. Those responsible were the al-Qaida network reared by Osama bin Laden."
He said the Taliban have one hope: "That we are decadent, that we lack the moral fibre or will or courage to take them on; that we might begin but we won't finish. They are wrong. We won't falter. We will not stop until our mission is complete."
Defence sources, who deny there is any rift between Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, and his military commanders, said 200 marines on standby in the Gulf - along with SAS troops - were ready to move quickly if the opportunity and intelligence fell into place. "It may be we'll have to wait several weeks or longer before we have sufficient confidence to commit," a defence source said.
Mr Hoon - in Washington for talks with his opposite number, Donald Rumsfeld - denied that there was any "disconnect" between British and American approaches to the conduct of the war.
However, Mr Hoon made clear that as far as the British were concerned, Ramadan [starting on November 17] would be a factor, but not a decisive factor in planning military operations. He said: "We would have regard to Ramadan but equally we would have regard to the military necessity of keeping the Taliban regime under pressure."
In another clear difference of tone between London and Washington, Mr Hoon defined the war aims as bringing Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida organisation "to account" for the September 11 attacks, and to make sure they were unable to carry out similar attacks in the future.
Mr Rumsfeld and President Bush have defined victory as freeing Americans from fear of terrorism, implying a much more far-reaching campaign against all terrorist groups.
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