Friday, November 2, 2001
S a t u r d a y ,  N o v e m b e r  3,  2 0 0 1
Sunday, November 4, 2001

Thousands of Troops in Big Afghan Push 'Within Weeks'

Excerpts from an article detailing plans for U.S. and British forces to open up a northern corridor through Mazar-i Sharif to, among other things, insure humanitarian aid gets to Afghans in need:

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British and American forces are about to mount the first significant ground offensive of the war in Afghanistan in an attempt to establish a "humanitarian bridgehead" that would bring winter relief to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Royal Marines and British special forces are expected to join soldiers from the US 10th Mountain Division in securing a corridor from Uzbekistan through enemy positions in northern Afghanistan.

Senior British officials said thousands of troops would act "in support" of Northern Alliance forces ranged against the Taliban regime. The aim is to establish a forward base from which to distribute clothing, food and medicine that cannot be safely dropped from the air.

... The offensive may lead to the creation of tented refugee camps inside Afghanistan that would be protected by coalition troops. A senior cabinet minister said: "We have got three weeks to do this before the winter really sets in."

... Once the ground is secure, the operation will begin to relieve refugees. "We have to do this because, first, there could be a humanitarian catastrophe and, second, it is politically necessary," said a senior official in Washington.

... "An important part of the military operation is to look for ways of entering humanitarian aid into the country," said Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary.

... If a land corridor can be established and protected, US and British forces could operate inside Afghanistan throughout the winter without needing the large number of fixed bases that proved vulnerable to attack during the decade of Soviet occupation that began in 1979. ...

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  • Sunday Times [link inactive]

As Saddam Builds His Monuments, Mothers Abandon Their Babies

Excerpt from article describing the plight of babies in Iraq and the irresponsibility on the part of the Saddam Hussein regime in failing to use available funds to help those in need:

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In Basra, babies are being forsaken in the dusty streets by their impoverished mothers. They are, finds Hala Jaber, the victims of a regime more obsessed with building monuments than feeding its people.

They look dead. The seven babies, little more than bundles of torn sheets, lie malnourished and motionless in a bare, filthy back room of Basra's main children's and maternity hospital.

The oppressive air, filled not with the usual antiseptic odour of medical facilities but the foul stench of human waste, is stirred only by the occasional entrance of the cleaner, who bustles in between mopping wards to quickly wash each infant in the basin.

Otherwise, they are all but left alone. The doctors and nursing staff are already overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of seriously ill children in their care.

The hospital is doing all that it can, but it is neither equipped as a nursery nor an orphanage. "We do our best, but I believe they suffer more for the lack of their mother's care and love. Nothing can supplement that," one doctor, a consultant gynaecologist, said sadly.

The babies, the victims of a regime more obsessed with building monuments than feeding its people, were abandoned on the roadsides or at the entrances of mosques by poverty-stricken families who can no longer feed them even another mouthful.

They had arrived with nothing, after being picked up from the streets by passers-by. A carton containing a few old pieces of cloth - which served as clothes - was on the floor near them.

They are, perhaps, the lucky ones. Many more don't make it this far. Doctors at the hospital, which The Telegraph has chosen not to identify to protect the staff, are horrified by the number of abandoned infants who die on the streets of Iraq's second biggest city before reaching their wards.

"Their mothers cannot take care of them," the doctor tells me. "They have no money and no means to feed them, so they are now dumping these children. Sometimes the babies are adopted, other times, like now, nothing happens and suddenly we have a roomful of them."

"It is heartbreaking and we really do our best for them, but we do not have full-time staff and the proper facilities to take care of them. I have seen good days and some beautiful days in this hospital, but these are really the bad days."

The hospital wrote to the Iraqi authorities several months ago, outlining the predicament of the infants and seeking help in having them placed in institutions. There has been no reply.

... Last year, Saddam Hussein's revenue from the oil-for-food programme amounted to $11 billion - money earmarked by the UN for the relief of the human crisis.

Since the beginning of the oil-for-food deal in December 1996, a total of $38.6 billion has been generated. Western governments are adamant that the oil revenue is more than sufficient to feed the population.

They charge Saddam with causing the increasingly poverty-stricken majority, many of whom are on the brink of starvation.

As supporting evidence, they cite the stark contrast between neglected cities such as Basra and parts of Baghdad, where Saddam is building monuments to his own glorification and the markets are overflowing with food.

Earlier this year, one of Saddam's personal projects, the Mother of all Mosques - a beautiful white, blue and gold mosque which sits on an enormous artificial water feature designed in the shape of the Arab world map - was completed.

The mosque, in the centre of Baghdad, is estimated to have cost tens of millions of dollars and took three years to complete. Another ambitious mosque to be built on 200,000 square yards of land nearby has just begun.

The money poured into the capital is also evident in the abundance of new boutiques, electronic retailers and marketplaces, where only foreigners and rich Iraqis can afford the exotic wares on display.

The majority of Baghdad's residents have to satisfy themselves with their monthly food rations, which consist of basic staples such as rice, sugar, tea, fat, grains, flour and soap. ...

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Allies Set for Ferocious Escalation of Ground War

Excerpts from article describing plans to launch a major ground offensive in the coming week:

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A sustained wave of ferocious ground assaults on Afghanistan by American and British forces is to be launched this week in a drive to speed up the toppling of the Taliban.

Military planners have been told to be ready to step up attacks in anticipation of a breakthrough in international support for an interim government to take over the country, with the exiled king, Zahir Shah, as figurehead leader.

In the first stage America will concentrate the deployment of special forces around the key northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, to pave the way for its capture by the opposition Northern Alliance.

The decision was made as Osama bin Laden, the fugitive leader of al-Qaeda, infuriated the allies by releasing another videotaped appeal for an Islamic holy war, broadcast by al-Jazeera television.

... In Washington, Bush administration officials said the tape showed that bin Laden was beginning to feel the pressure. A White House spokesman said: "His expression of hatred and incitement to violence against innocent people is just one more indication of how far removed he is from civilised society. This is just more misguided propaganda."

The war against bin Laden and his followers was boosted yesterday when the Northern Alliance claimed a breakthrough in a new offensive to take Mazar, saying that it had seized Aq-Kupruk, 45 miles to the south, after the defection of 800 Taliban troops. ...

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Massive Spring Invasion If Winter Attacks Don't Yield Victory

Excerpt from article describing the possibility of a massive invasion force in Afghanistan in the Spring of 2002 if the attacks over the winter don't result in the displacement of the Taleban:

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Ten days ago, Donald Rumsfeld, the hard-as-nails American defence secretary, summoned his top military brass to his office at the Pentagon, still badly scarred from the attack of September 11.

"The war isn't going well," said the usually mild-mannered Mr Rumsfeld, his voice rising as he complained at the lack of progress against the Taliban. "Either we have something spectacular this weekend or heads will roll."

... Mr Rumsfeld did not get the spectacular breakthrough he was seeking, but by the beginning of last week the pace was at least picking up.

... Behind the scenes in Britain and America, however, an uncomfortable truth was finally being digested. For all the rhetoric about the "long haul" ahead in Afghanistan, many in both countries had hoped that somehow the Taliban would be prised from control within months - perhaps even by Christmas.

Mr Rumsfeld may not have been as surprised as his generals at the resilience of the Taliban regime. Now, however, there is a dawning realisation throughout the American and British military that it really could take at least a year to win control of Afghanistan - and that a dramatic land campaign will be necessary to finish the job.

At the very least, some military planners believe, a winter of heavy commando raids is imminent and may still need to be followed by a spring offensive in which 20,000 troops or more may have to be put on to the ground.

... British military officials suspect that America is drawing up contingency plans for something even more substantial: a full invasion, on the scale of Desert Storm, using the equivalent of three military corps - up to 300,000 troops - to finish off the Taliban and flush out the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

With the Northern Alliance weak and slow to fight, their analysis goes, the prospect of large-scale Taliban defections is slight.

Against an estimated combined Taliban and al Qaeda fighting force of 55,000 men, at least 150,000 troops would be needed to secure the three to one advantage which military planners assume any invading force needs - and more to be sure of satisfying the "overwhelming force" doctrine of General Colin Powell.

Under this thinking, America and Britain, with some support from other countries, including Australia, France and Turkey, would attack along the lines of Air-Land 2000, America's updated version of the Wehrmacht's Blitzkreig and the Red Army's doctrine of "shock attack", last used in Operation Desert Storm - something which took four months to plan.

... Senior American officials dismiss as fantasy suggestions that a large-scale ground force might be needed.

... Another Washington official cautioned that few people really knew what was in the works. "This is a military campaign of great unorthodoxy and the number of people who are really working the strategy is being kept deliberately small," he said.

American officials are also acutely aware of the political limitations upon them. True, the public is readier than it has been for years to commit troops and suffer military casualties - more so, some suspect, than the generals themselves. However, there is little appetite for anything that smacks of long-term involvement such as that in Vietnam.

Even so, some politicians are beginning to speak out in favour of the immediate deployment of ground troops - ranging from John McCain, the Republican senator, who last week urged that a powerful force be used, to Tom Daschle, the Democrat Senate leader, who said he would tolerate deploying a substantial force if it proved necessary.

If a large force were needed in the spring, preparations would have to begin soon.

... Meanwhile, there is the winter to get through - and British and American planners believe that the cold and snow could well be turned to the advantage of the well-equipped coalition forces, making it even more difficult for the Taliban to move around without being detected.

(click for large size image)

Heat-imaging devices will work better because of the heightened contrast between body temperatures and the cold environment, and may make it possible to detect the mouths of caves being used as Taliban hideouts. At a more basic level, as one military planner put it: "It's hard to wipe away your footprints in the snow."

Pentagon officials intend running a sustained campaign of quick strikes, using British and American commandos, throughout the winter, although they admit that better intelligence will be needed before these can be mounted.

One British official said: "The intelligence is still very poor from the ground and we are going to have to work that through the winter."

... Military officials and politicians in both countries are united, however, in their hope that - against the odds - they may achieve a decisive breakthrough this winter. Otherwise, both Britain and America know that, like it or not, they will be forced into a much more substantial commitment of troops in five months' time.

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