As the Pentagon admits that the Taleban leadership are legitimate targets, the entry of the AC-130 Spectre aircraft indicates that the conflict is at turning point.
The official position of the United States Administration was given yesterday by Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke, who said: “We continue to make progress toward our goal to create the conditions necessary for sustained antiterrorist operations and delivery of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people”.
To date, 350,000 humanitarian relief supplies have been dropped over Afghanistan, some of which have fallen on inaccessible areas, such as mountains and minefields. Targets for the laser-precision equipment deployed have been airfields, aircraft, anti-aircraft systems, troop and vehicle staging areas and storage and maintenance sheds. Raids have been made by up to 100 strike aircraft and bombers, 90% of which come from the aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean. These appear to have softened up the Taleban defences, leaving the theatre open for the AC-130 Spectre aircraft to enter.
Two of these have been deployed in Afghanistan this week. The fact that the AC-130 is slower and flies lower than other strike aircraft would indicate that the threat from anti-aircraft systems has been greatly reduced and that a ground offensive is about to start.
The AC-130 itself will be used to support an invading force. Its longer “loitering capacity”, meaning that it can station over a target for longer, giving its weaponry more “target-time” than other strike aircraft and its highly efficient precision weapons makes this an excellent support platform to accompany ground forces. While AC-130s have been used before in Grenada, Panama and Iraq, the question remains open as to how effective they will prove in mountain warfare, where in closer contact with enemy troops, the aircraft will be more vulnerable to attacks with SAM anti-aircraft equipment.
This turning point in the conflict will be compounded by the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif within the next week to the Northern Alliance forces.
The Pentagon has also admitted that the Taleban leadership and Osama Bin Laden are legitimate targets. Marine Corps Lieutenant-General Gregory Newbold stated that “Their command and control is a center lynchpin for keeping the factions together that represent the Taleban. To the degree to which we can eliminate effective command and control, we will try to do that as a legitimate military target”.
Reports from the Northern Alliance that hundreds of volunteers had been seen crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan have not been denied or confirmed.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru LISBON PORTUGAL