First US Ground Attack 'Could
Have Ended In Disaster'
By Kim Sengupta
The Independent - London

The much-hyped first American ground attack on Afghanistan ran into unexpectedly fierce resistance and almost ended in disaster, senior defence sources have disclosed.
The public admissions by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary 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 forced landing.
The Pentagon presented the operation as a complete success 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 military 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 originally envisaged.
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 withdrawl.
"That's when the Chinook got into difficulties and lost its undercarriage. Some of us are surprised that such senior US figures 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 stretching into next spring or beyond.

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