Onset of Winter Harsh Backdrop for Afghan Operations

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Whatever will be will be, and quite soon. Nature's Winter CountDown clock is ticking, ticking . . .

Hyperlink: http://www.janes.com/defence/news/misc/janes010926_1_n.shtml

Onset of winter will provide harsh backdrop for Afghan operations

By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi, with additional reporting by Scott Gourley and Peter Felstead

The onset of the bitter Afghan winter by early next month will blunt any significant military offensive by the country's US-supported Northern Alliance against the Taliban regime in Kabul. Weather conditions may also limit US military operations designed to apprehend Osama bin Laden or strike at key Taliban positions. Military experts say the winter in Afghanistan, which lasts until April, renders all major military campaigns across the country a 'logistical nightmare'. Snow blocks all the main passes, especially in northern Afghanistan, making all movement difficult if not impossible, while blizzards and sleet considerably reduce visibility.

"Temperatures plunging to minus 40 degrees Celsius, a wind chill factor of formidable intensity, snow and blizzards negate the fighting capability of any army, however well equipped," said Major General Himmat Singh Gill, former Indian military attaché to Kabul. This, he added, would be particularly true of the Northern Alliance, which would have to move southwards through the 12,000ft-high Salang and Bamiyan passes into the Kabul valley during any advance on the capital. These passes would provide the Taliban with formidable defensive positions, making it hard militarily to dislodge or push them back. The Taliban army, meanwhile, is conditioned to fighting in extreme cold, having done so for years. Its battle-hardened cadres are familiar with the bleak countryside, off which they have lived with relative ease.

"Handling equipment in the extreme cold by ground troops becomes problematic, and all fighting, particularly at night, is reduced to low, almost insignificant levels," according to Colonel Ram Chander, who also has served as India's defence attaché in Afghanistan. Operating helicopters and light combat aircraft in such harsh weather would also be perilous, as blizzards significantly reduce visibility. Ground snow conditions induced 'white outs', impairing pilots' ability to identify locations and targets. Even Soviet pilots, used to operating under such conditions in their own country, found it impossible to operate in the Afghani winter during their decade-long occupation of Afghanistan that ended in 1989. US special operations forces (SOF) personnel and aircraft crews will not, of course, have any experience of the very difficult conditions in Afghanistan. However, although their peacetime training conditions are not as harsh as those they might face in combat, they will have trained in a wide range of inhospitable environments.

In March 2001, for example, soldiers from the US Army's 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) 3rd Battalion, regionally oriented toward Europe, honed their cold weather/mountain skills with a deployment to Grand Mesa National Park. This field deployment allowed the SOF operators to train at elevations above 10,000 ft. Operational conditions in the area reportedly included an average snow depth of more than 4 ft and nightly low temperatures reaching minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Reflecting on the deployment, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Herd, Commander, 10th SFG(A), noted that "Our soldiers must be able to survive and operate in a harsh, cold weather environment."

Indian troops, meanwhile, are among those soldiers who have fought in bleak conditions comparable to an Afghani winter. During their 11-week-long border war with Pakistan two summers ago in Kashmir's mountainous Kargil region, they faced grave hardship and suffered heavy casualties. Every combat soldier required the logistic support of five men to fight Pakistan's mountain-hardy fighters from the Northern Light Infantry, which occupied strategically superior positions and, being natives of the region, were well acclimatised.

The one advantage US soldiers may have - apart from superior equipment - is the fact that they will not necessarily have to take and hold ground for prolonged periods but are more likely to be inserted for an operation and then extracted as soon as the mission is concluded. History has demonstrated that short-term punitive actions into Afghanistan, with specific objectives and a sound exit strategy, have been successful. Large-scale campaigns of invasion and occupation, on the other hand, such as the ill-fated Soviet intervention of 1979-89, have met a more ignominious fate.

-- Robert Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), September 28, 2001


So what are we waiting for? Ground temps. in the zeros, and snow? I am getting a bad feeling this is turning sour.A real Cluster mess ( my husband has another word for it lol ). love to all Judy

-- Judy/W (Judywhalen@aol.com), September 28, 2001.

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