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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
When will military action begin?
US pilots
US pilots are preparing for action
By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

More than two weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the waiting goes on. Nobody knows exactly where or when the US will strike back, but some form of military action is inevitable.

Its not necessarily going to be what people expect and it may last for a lot longer than some are predicting.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld has warned of more casualties
The US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has already cautioned that this war could take years to win, and that there will be more casualties in the struggle against what the Americans call global terrorism.

Many are already asking what "victory" means in this new kind of struggle - it clearly isn't a well-defined end-state like the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait or the forced withdrawal of Serbian security forces from Kosovo.

But wherever this campaign may lead it has to begin somewhere.

All the attention at the moment is on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime and the shadowy forces that may lurk in the wild Afghan uplands.

Preconditions

So when is it all going to start? What are the preconditions for President Bush to give the Pentagon the green light? Indeed how relevant are such questions to what is going on?

Galaxy transport plane
Giant C-5 Galaxy planes are deploying men and equipment

The answer can be summarised in three words; diplomacy, readiness and information.

Huge efforts have been invested in building as broad an international coalition as possible to back US military action.

At the moment this is focused very much on the immediate response to those either responsible for the US attacks or the people who harbour them.

The coalition is less concerned with the wider long-term US aims; though here too - once they are defined - coalition-building will be a key element of success.

Central to welding the coalition together is the need to provide evidence linking Osama Bin Laden's organisation to the US attacks.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has made it clear that evidence will be forthcoming. And its on the basis of this evidence that the US will mount its attacks.

Military in place

Readiness in military terms is obvious. Key pieces of equipment, supplies and command facilities must be put into place.

Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell has orchestrated efforts to build a coalition

The US has been moving around forces to cover a variety of military options both in the short and medium-term. By the end of this week much of the critical hardware will be in place.

The actual order to begin military operations may depend upon local factors like the weather or the state of the moon. But clearly information is key.

The Pentagon will act only when it believes that it as built up a sufficient intelligence picture of potential targets and the forces ranged against it.

The work of special forces is shrouded in secrecy; ongoing operations are simply not discussed.

Much of the comment in newspapers and the media about gunbattles in Afghanistan between elite Western units and local fighters may be speculation at best and fiction at worst.

But they could contain a grain of truth. Part of building an intelligence picture would be the infiltration of elite units to stake out targets and prepare the way for what may follow.

And in this important sense the operation may already have begun.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
See also:

24 Sep 01 | South Asia
US military threats dismissed
16 Sep 01 | Americas
Analysis: Building a coalition
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan neighbours key to US success
26 Sep 01 | Americas
The Pentagon and the press
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