US Assault Plans Bedeviled by Leaks
Ahead of the next US-led operation in Afghanistan, Army Maj.-Gen. Franklin L. “Buster” Hagenbeck informed reporters at Bagram Air Base Saturday, March 16, that the two-week Anaconda Operation around the Shah-e-Kot Valey had severely damaged the al Qaeda network, killed most of its most seasoned military leaders and destroyed so much of its ammunition that its members will have to find new ways of supporting and equipping themselves.
“I think we’ve taken out a large chunk of the al Qaeda-Taliban’s hard-core well-trained, experienced veterans,” he said. “If you want to compare it to a US military unit, I would describe it as… their majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels.”
The general also confirmed debkafile reports that pockets of resistance remained aroundAfghanistan. They are focused in two or three areas – chiefly, in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia, al Qaeda’s historic stronghold of support – and scene of the Shah-e-Kot battles – the southern city of Kandahar and the nearby province of Uruzgan, where the Taliban originated. Hagenbeck was saying in fact that ahead of the United States lie many more months of combat in Afghanistan.
debkafile‘s military sources report that al Qaeda commanders are just as pleased with their military performance as the American general is of his. They regard their withdrawal from the Shah-e-KotValley as a tactical maneuver, and expect to regroup faster than the US-led force of Australian, New Zealander, Norwegian and Afghan troops, and be ready to hit back within days. Their primary goal now is to gain the first-strike advantage, which could be the determining factor in the next round of fighting.
This consideration is fully appreciated by the American commander, who stressed to the reporters at Bagram base that intelligence-gathering planes are flying over the target areas “around the clock”. A note of urgency was sounded when he said: “We think that there will be some groups that try to target American and coalition forces, looking for soft targets… We’ve got to get to them before they get to us.”
According to debkafile‘s military sources, combat-ready Taliban-al Qaeda forces are encamped not only in eastern Afghanistan, but also in the central, western and northern regions. The Pakita contingents receive supplies of men, ammunition and food from the east – ie western Pakistan, the other concentrations are supplied from northwest Pakistan, including Kashmir.
General Hagenbeck’s key sentence was: “We didn’t have operational surprise. There are no secrets in Afghanistan.”
Put another way, al Qaeda has the intelligence advantage in Afghanistan – not the American military, because it is the terrorist network which is forewarned. debkafile‘s military sources report that in an effort to overcoming this inadequacy, the Americans tried out Australian, New Zealand and Norwegian special forces for the first time in Operation Anaconda. All three are seasoned in combat and intelligence gathering in high, snowbound mountain terrain. Late February, they were dropped over the mountains surrounding the Shah-e-KotValley to gather intelligence, track he daily routines of the Taliban and al Qaeda and mark out targets. They operated under cover throughout the fighting, evading discovery by the rebels.
When the battle was at top pitch on Monday, March 4, and two US helicopters were hit – costing seven US lives – the Australian commandos were able to report on the course of events to the US command, but could not render aid for fear of being discovered and liquidated.
The immediate US intelligence problem now goes beyond gathering intelligence on the enemy; it is how to prevent incoming intelligence leaking out to the other side, and how to conceal US military preparations based on this incoming intelligence.
The American experience thus far – In the Sha-e-Kot battles – and, earlier, at Tora Bora, and day to day at the US base at Kandahar international airport – is that every scrap of information reaching the field commands percolates to the opposition. The spies could be local Afghan commanders, local service workers or anonymous elements linked to al Qaeda. The US military cannot match the al Qaeda’s intelligence capabilities, a shortcoming bedeviling the US war effort since October 6, 2001, that the American military command will have to address while engaging in warfare.
The al Qaeda network wields an army of terrorists on either side of the Pakistan-Afghan frontier, both equally hard to keep track of. This was demonstrated Sunday, March 17, when terrorists penetrated the well-guarded diplomatic compound of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and tossed grenades into a Protestant church. Five worshippers were killed and more than forty injured, including many foreign envoys and their families.