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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Analysis: Ground raids a turning point
This image from a US Defence Department video shows US special forces in Afghanistan
TV stations were given unprecedented shots of the raid
Jonathan Marcus

The raid by US special forces on two locations near to Kandahar represents a significant turning point in the war against al-Qaeda and its Taleban supporters.

For the first time, the United States has shown that it is willing to put its soldiers into danger on the ground.

Until now, the military objectives of the raids have been unclear.

The Americans spoke of gathering intelligence, but the wider value of the operation probably far out-weighed its purely military goals.

Propaganda war

There are many wars going on in and around Afghanistan and one of the most important is the propaganda battle.

AC-130 gun ships familiarised themselves with the terrain
The Taleban regime has shown that it is adept at using satellite television to bolster its messages.

And not surprisingly, the Pentagon, too, regards the information war as a key element of this campaign.

That is why television stations were given unprecedented pictures of the raid by US army rangers.

Multiple messages

And, as often, these pictures were intended to send multiple messages.

Ever since the Vietnam catastrophe, it has been argued that the American public is unwilling to accept casualties in overseas military operations.

One of the most powerful signals sent by the filmed operation is that this time, things are different.

After thousands of civilian deaths in New York, there is no reluctance on the part of the Pentagon to put US troops in harm's way.

This is a message that resonates both at home and abroad.

By attacking close to the organisation's spiritual centre in Kandahar, the US has effectively put the Taleban on notice that American forces will operate wherever and whenever they choose.

Patchy history

America's special forces have had something of a patchy history since the Vietnam years, with a series of high-profile failures set against a number of far less publicised successes.

Nobody in the Pentagon wanted to begin this ground campaign with a setback. The operation was carefully rehearsed.

AC-130 gun ships were in operation in the days leading up to the mission, probably familiarising themselves with the terrain.

This is not a conventional war - the Americans do not want to invade Afghanistan.

Hence a variety of unconventional methods will be used.

And virtually every operation will send signals to its potential allies and opponents on the ground.

See also:

19 Oct 01 | South Asia
US special forces 'inside Afghanistan'
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden 'aide' killed in blast
22 Oct 01 | South Asia
Aid rushed to stranded Afghans
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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