U.S. Draws up invasion plan

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November 7, 2001 -- WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is preparing contingency plans for a major U.S. ground invasion of Afghanistan that would be ordered next spring if anti-Taliban rebels fail to make significant military gains in the coming weeks.

Pentagon officials said last night that preparations for a "Plan B" involving the use of tens of thousands of American and allied ground troops inside Afghanistan are intensifying as doubts grow about the fighting capabilities of the rebel forces of the Northern Alliance.

The Pentagon's strategy of defeating the Taliban has so far relied on the rebel forces - a patchwork collection of ethnic warlords - to move on Kabul and the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif before the harsh Afghan winter sets in.

The U.S. has been relentlessly bombing Taliban front lines near both cities with massive firepower that includes carpet-bombing and the use of powerful 15,000-pound "Daisy Cutters." The U.S. has also sent into Afghanistan about 100 Special Forces commandos to pick targets and help the rebels coordinate on the ground tactics.

But the rebels, badly out-gunned by the better-equipped Taliban, have yet to move on Kabul and an offensive on Mazar-e-Sharif began only last weekend.

Yesterday, Northern Alliance officials claimed they killed 300 Taliban fighters and captured three key districts outside Mazar-e-Sharif in an advance in which U.S. fighter jets provided air cover.

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a guarded assessment of their progress saying, "I like to see the dust settle" before declaring whether Mazar-e-Sharif is about to fall.

"This is not going to be a steady march forward. It's going to be probes and pushes and successes and steps back," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

The capture of Mazar-e-Sharif is considered a key war goal because it would create a staging area for U.S. commando operations as well as relief efforts, and choke off key Taliban supply lines throughout the winter.

Pentagon officials would also like the rebels to make a major push toward Kabul, an operation that, if successful, could be a psychological blow to the Taliban and lead to mass defections. It would also give the United States access to the Bagram air base 40 miles north of the city for further assaults on Osama bin Laden and his hidden al Qaeda network.

Officials say it will take several weeks before a determination can be made on whether the Northern Alliance can be successful militarily, noting that more ammunition, supplies and training is on the way from the United States, Russia and other countries.

But if the rebels are unable to prove themselves on the field of battle as promised, officials said it's likely the United States would launch its first major ground offensive since the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

Officials said such an operation would not likely begin until the spring because of the weather conditions in Afghanistan and the length of time it would take to deploy that many U.S. troops to the region.

Rumsfeld said it would be "irresponsible" for him to talk about military options, but said the Pentagon is considering a broad array of options.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 07, 2001

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