SCMP Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Wait almost over for attack on Afghanistan, says analyst


The US and its allies looked set to launch a massive aerial bombardment of Afghanistan tomorrow, according to a military expert.
Major Charles Heyman, of the London-based global defence magazine Jane's, told the South China Morning Post: "All the signals are that the action will start on Thursday morning [GMT].
"It will begin with a very, very heavy wave of air attacks across Afghanistan directed at known terrorist bases and military assets of the Taleban regime."
But he warned that air strikes could be followed by a land invasion if the US felt the need to drive home the message to the Islamic regime in Kabul.
These would include armoured fighting vehicles, such as tanks, artillery, fuel dumps, military hardware dumps and communication centres. "The aim is to destroy the military capability of the Taleban because of their support for bin Laden," he said.
He added the US would use its full aerial capability, stretching from B-52 bombers, used in the Vietnam War, to hi-tech F-15 fighters. The major also predicted that there could be a role for British fighter bombers in the attack, but expected the vast majority of planes to be drawn from US forces, including the four aircraft carriers close to Pakistan's coast.
Because of this formidable air power, Major Heyman was less confident about an ensuing land war. "That depends on the efficiency of the air attacks," he said. "It's pointless to follow up [with land attacks] if nothing is left. But if you have not managed to do this, there could be a land insertion. We have not, however, seen signs of a re-run of the Gulf War."
Looking back at the largely fruitless aerial Nato campaign to track down and destroy the Yugoslav army, Major Heyman believed the Taleban would nevertheless struggle to avoid the full weight of the attacks.
"In Kosovo, the aim was to drive out the Yugoslav army, one of the most practised in the world at camouflage and deception," he said. "The Taleban does not have the terrain for this, there are no forests or urban areas. Everything is on display; they are there to be hit."
Yet he was cautious about the chances of success for the US and its military allies.
"The jury's out. It is a difficult operation trying to punish the Taleban rather than drive them out," he said.