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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 05:23 GMT 06:23 UK
Cruise missiles spearhead attack
Afghan-Pakistan border
Afghanistan is a rugged and inhospitable country
The priority of the attacks on Afghanistan was to eliminate the threat from Taleban air defences to allow a sustained campaign against terror, said US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.


Everything went like a finely-oiled machine

US bomber pilot
Targets included early warning radars, surface-to-air missiles, airfields, aircraft, military command and control installations and terrorist camps.

In one case, Taleban military equipment including tanks was struck near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, officials said.

Bombers

The attacks were spearheaded by US and British cruise missiles fired from naval vessels in the Arabian Sea, and included long-range bombers flying from bases in the US and aircraft flying from carriers in the region.

One senior administration official said the military strikes would be sustained and would last at least a few days.

Taleban fighters sitting on a Russian-made tank
Largely a guerrilla army, with a few tanks and aircraft attached
Mr Rumsfeld said 15 bombers, including B-2 Stealth bombers flying direct from the US, 25 strike aircraft and 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been used.

The B-2s dropped their satellite-guided bombs and continued on to Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean.

B-52 bombers dropped dozens of 500lb bombs on al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan, one US official said.

Pilot

In a press conference organised by the Pentagon, one of the US pilots who flew over Afghanistan said "everything went like a finely-oiled machine".

The US officer added: "We didn't encounter any threats we weren't equipped to deal with" and said the experience had been less demanding than training exercises.

Cruise missiles - typically used for precise targetting of key installations - can travel for hundreds of miles using their own navigation and global positioning systems.

After being dropped from a B-52 bomber or shot from a vessel at sea, the missile's wings, tail and engine inlet fold out from its body and it flies a low, zig-zag route to avoid detection by enemy radar.

Once the missile hits its target it detonates a 1,000lb warhead. The US military says that the missile is 90% accurate, but there is no independent verification of this figure.

B-2 Stealth bombers

The B-2 is a heavy bomber with stealth features - technologies that make military machines less easy to detect with radar.

B-2s from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Diego Garcia and Guam can cover the whole world with only one mid-air refuelling.

Afghan fighters
Afghanistan has suffered more than 20 years of war
The scale of the strikes is so far limited by comparison with previous operations against Iraq or Yugoslavia, but military analysts say there is only a relatively small number of conventional military targets to hit.

The Taleban forces and those of Bin Laden are largely a guerrilla army, with a few tanks and aeroplanes, and no sophisticated system of defence installations.

Taleban military power depends much less on such things than on the passion of their fighting men and their ability to live off the land.

Afghanistan is a rugged, largely inhospitable country, whose land communications are severely hampered by the mountainous terrain which occupies much of its territory, especially in the centre and north-east.

The Taleban will be hoping to weather the attack as Afghans did the Soviet invasion of the 1980s.

Clear focus

The BBC's Afghanistan correspondent Kate Clarke says they have been redeploying troops, massing soldiers in strategic towns, relying less now on local soldiers who they fear might defect and depending more on the hard core Taleban.

These are soldiers from their heartland in the south and the foreign militants, Arabs, Pakistanis and Central Asians.

Superpowers of the past - from Imperial Britain to the Soviet Union - have found that military involvement in Afghanistan is full of danger.

But the aim of the current military action is more limited than earlier British and Soviet military campaigns.

By limiting their military objectives to the fight against Bin Laden, his network and his Taleban hosts, the US and its allies will be seeking to ensure that their actions are seen as proportionate, but also that their campaign remains clearly focused and achievable.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Shukman
describes the military hardware used in the attacks
See also:

04 Oct 01 | Americas
Guide to the Tomahawk cruise missile
Links to more South Asia stories are at the foot of the page.


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