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Moscow Times
October 25, 2001
U.S. Faces Costly Stalemate
By Pavel Felgenhauer (pavelf@online.ru)

U.S. special forces went into Afghanistan and out again. The Pentagon claims the airborne mission "accomplished its objectives" and was "successful." U.S. military officials also designated the mission as "fast-paced," apparently to explain why the special forces and Army Rangers rushed out of action and out of Afghanistan just several hours after deployment.

But despite the spin, the true achievements of the first U.S. ground raid into Afghanistan do not seem to have been impressive. No enemy units or strongholds were destroyed; no enemy commanders or VIPs were killed or captured. The Rangers left behind 8.5 by 11-inch papers that said "Freedom Endures," with a picture of firemen raising the American flag at what appeared to be the World Trade Center.

Planting this calling card came at a price: Two servicemen were reported killed and several more wounded in a Black Hawk helicopter crash. The Pentagon claims that the crash was unrelated and happened in Pakistan. However, this official version of events has been questioned.

U.S. officials' track record of truthfulness so far in the war with terrorism is not particularly encouraging. On Oct.16, U.S. planes hit and completely destroyed a clearly marked warehouse belonging to the Red Cross in Kabul, which contained food, medical supplies and blankets.

After a day or so of hesitation the United States acknowledged that it was an F-18 fighter that hit the Red Cross compound, but before that White House spokesman Ari Fleischer raised the possibility that anti-aircraft fire from the ground could have been responsible. The Taliban, however, are not known to have fired surface-to-air missiles at the time or actually to have any at all, with the exception of small, shoulder-launched Stinger-class guided projectiles.

On Oct. 12, U.S. bombs reduced the village of Koram in eastern Afghanistan near Jalalabad to rubble, allegedly killing some 200 inhabitants. The village was visited by a group of international journalists and the massacre was verified. And yet, once again, a Pentagon source told CNN that Koram, a very remote village in a high mountain gully, "may have been hit by a Taliban surface-to-air missile that went astray."

Koram was apparently hit by a heavy U.S. incendiary bomb. A stray missile could not have possibly demolished a village with a population of 400 to 450 and killed up to half of them, even if the Taliban did use such missiles. Incendiary bombs, on the contrary, kill people in underground shelters and in houses very effectively but do not leave large craters.

Footage of Qatar's al-Jazeera television showing night bombings by U.S. warplanes near Kabul and Jalalabad display high-caliber incendiary bomb detonations that are clearly distinguishable from any other conventional explosions.

The United States is the only Western country that has this barbaric weapon in its arsenal and has used it against Vietnam and Iraq. Russia also has used incendiary bombs in its present war in Chechnya.

If Koram was indeed devastated by a incendiary bomb, this may qualify as a grave war crime deliberately committed by the United States military on the direct orders of the White House. The 1980 Geneva contention, signed and ratified by the United States, prohibits under any circumstances attacks by air-delivered incendiary weapons -- of which incendiary bombs are the worst -- against military targets if concentrations of civilians -- even columns of refugees or nomads -- are nearby.

In 1999, Russia began to bomb Chechnya with precision-guided weapons, destroying a civilian radar facility and several planes in the Grozny airport. But the Russian military soon ran out of targets for precision attacks and the bombing became indiscriminate.

The United States is apparently facing the same problem in Afghanistan, which is not a developed country with industry and infrastructure but, like Chechnya, a natural firing range. Commando raids are more precise, but they are risky, and the Taliban's regular army, although relatively small, is effective.

U.S. air strikes are killing large numbers of ordinary Afghan civilians who are potential allies of the West in fighting against the oppressive Taliban regime. The Northern Alliance is despised by the population and seems incapable of effective offensive action. The situation is a costly strategic stalemate, and the United States seems to be caught in the middle of it.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.

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