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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Analysis: Washington's military tactics
The Pentagon says it has destroyed this base used by Osama Bin Laden
The Pentagon says it has destroyed this base used by Osama Bin Laden
Jonathan Marcus

The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has now in effect announced the end of the initial stage of this operation.

Its chief aim was to destroy what few surface-to-air missile batteries the Taleban deployed, to disrupt command and control centres and either to destroy Taleban aircraft on the ground or to render their runways unusable.

Donald Rumsfeld:
Donald Rumsfeld: Operations round the clock

This seems to have been largely achieved with Mr Rumsfeld announcing that operations will now be mounted around the clock.

There is of course no independent way to verify the US claims though they have shown after-action pictures of a shattered training camp, a destroyed surface-to-air missile battery and one of the airfields that was hit.

While US air attacks will no longer be restricted to the hours of darkness Pentagon officials say that targets are still going to be carefully chosen.

So far, only a small proportion of the available air power has been employed and this pattern is likely to continue. Over the next few days there are a number of things to watch for.

Launch new window : Military glossary
Guide to the military hardware being used

The Americans have made no secret of their desire to change the balance of forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

Military pressure

Any change in focus of the air operation to hit Taleban ground units and their foreign allies loyal to Osama Bin Laden could herald a ground offensive by the anti-Taleban forces.

Taleban fighters
The US is hoping the Taleban will crumble from within

One key place to watch is the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif which has been hotly contested by Taleban and Northern Alliance forces.

What the Americans are clearly hoping for is that a combination of external military pressure and internal defections or dissent will speed the collapse of the Taleban regime.

That may be wishful thinking though many experts believe that Kabul's hold on its allies was shaky even before this crisis erupted.

This strategy raises all sorts of questions about who will eventually form the government in Afghanistan. Many people point out that the Northern Alliance's various warlords have a generally poor record on human rights themselves.

US aims

Humanitarian aid and finding some sort of political formula for Afghanistan's future will be important.

Warplane takes off during air strikes
Warplane takes off during air strikes

But for now the US aim is to create conditions where they can hunt down and dismantle the al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan.

More US troops could be on their way to the region soon. It does not necessarily signal imminent ground operations but its is once again a sign that the Pentagon intends to have "a full military tool-kit available" - as one insider told me - so that no military options are excluded.

Military progress

What is not yet clear is the nature of these operations.

Many options are available from helicopter-borne raids launched from surrounding countries to the establishment of some sort of temporary staging facility on Afghan soil from which attacks could be mounted.

Much here could depend upon the military progress of the Northern Alliance.

US air power is still going to have a critical role to play - hitting so-called targets of opportunity on the ground while providing an inurance policy to help extricate any US ground forces that get into trouble.

See also:

09 Oct 01 | South Asia
Summary of targets so far
06 Oct 01 | South Asia
US begins ground deployment
07 Oct 01 | Americas
Guide to military strength
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