- The much-hyped first American ground attack on
ran into unexpectedly fierce resistance and almost ended in disaster,
defence sources have disclosed.
- The public admissions by Donald Rumsfeld, the US
of State for Defence, and US Navy Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem that they
were surprised by the toughness of the Taliban gives a glimpse of how badly
things could have gone wrong.
- The attack was meant to be a purely cosmetic exercise
for the benefit of the media and the public against a relatively safe and
poorly defended target.
- But there had been a failure of intelligence, and the
troops from the elite 75th Rangers Regiment ran into such heavy fire on
the ground near Kandahar that they had to beat a hasty retreat. A Chinook
helicopter airlifting them out lost its undercarriage and had to make a
- The Pentagon presented the operation as a complete
and evidence that Operation Enduring Freedom was going according to plan.
There was blanket and mainly adulatory media coverage on both sides of
the Atlantic with the prognosis that the ground war had begun.
- But, instead, what happened last weekend made US and
British planners at central command in Tampa, Florida, reappraise the
campaign, and continue with air strikes rather than carry out any more
missions on the ground. Within 24 hours the Pentagon has requested special
forces troops from Britain and Australia. And the British Government was
forced to consider a much larger deployment of ground troops than
- The near-shambles on the first Afghan ground mission
had unhappy memories for the Americans of Somalia, where 18 soldiers died
when their two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by militiamen. There,
too, intelligence had underestimated the opposition.
- One senior defence source said of the Afghan operation:
"The intelligence had been quite clear that the target near Kandahar
was pretty easy to take out.
- "But what the Rangers discovered was the Taliban
force there fighting back quite hard. The enemy regrouped very well and
their counter attack was such that the Rangers made a tactical
- "That's when the Chinook got into difficulties and
lost its undercarriage. Some of us are surprised that such senior US
are surprised at the tenacity of the Afghans. They had been fighting for
the last 20 years."
- The British chief of defence staff, Admiral Sir Michael
Boyce, pointed out that to beat the Taliban in their own lair would need
serious long-term commitment and not just commando raids.
- Pointedly, he added: "The quick pinprick operation
will be valid for certain targets where you have really good intelligence.
Sometimes one might have to stay longer to achieve a proper reconnaissannce
of the area you are looking at."
- Sir Michael's views were contrary to that of those of
some US officials who suggested this was going to be a "new kind of
war" of sophisticated commando operations.
- The difference in emphasis between the British defence
chief and the US officials first appeared when some in Washington talked
about a short campaign. But the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff,
General Richard Myers, now speaks about Operation Enduring Freedom
into next spring or beyond.
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