Afghanistan issues decree for volunteer army
Tuesday May 21, 2:12 AM
KABUL (Reuters) - The interim Afghan government issued a decree on Monday formally establishing a national volunteer army that will eventually assure the country's security after international peacekeepers leave.
The decree invites Afghan men between the ages of 22 and 30 to sign up for a four-year term, during which they will be paid $30 a month plus allowances when training and $50 a month when in full service, according to Kabul radio.
It said provincial governors should arrange for volunteers to travel to the capital Kabul to sign up.
The western province of Herat, run by powerful warlord Ismail Khan, should in addition supply each recruit with a Kalashnikov rifle and four magazines.
The establishment of a multi-ethnic, 60,000-strong national army is a key part of the reconstruction plan envisaged by the interim administration and the international community for Afghanistan following the Taliban's ousting in December in a U.S.-led war.
Coalition military officials estimate it will take two to five years until the army can prevent any reincursions by al Qaeda, the militant Islamic organisation blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States, or any resurgence of the Taliban militia.
A British-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) currently ensures security in Kabul and the British army has already trained a battalion of National Guard.
This battalion is currently protecting the palace in Kabul of interim leader Hamid Karzai and will next month look after security in the Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council meeting, that is expected to pick a new government.
U.S. special forces last week began training the first battalion of the Afghan National Army and French soldiers will take over the training of the next.
In addition to the army, the U.S.-led coalition forces and United Nations agencies assisting Afghanistan plan to help create an 8,000-strong air force, recruit 12,000 border guards and train 70,000 police officers throughout the country.
A US special forces soldier killed in eastern Afghanistan was shot dead in an ambush by suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, a military spokesman said.
Major Bryan Hilferty refused to identify the soldier, who is understood to be the first special forces member to be killed in combat here since the massive Operation Anaconda which ended in March.
"A United States special forces patrol near Skhin came under fire from enemy forces at approximately 5:00 pm local time yesterday," Hilferty said Monday.
"We returned fire, killing one enemy. Unfortunately one American was killed and one of our Afghan allies was wounded."
It is understood that the American, who was part of a small patrol operating in a mountainous area of eastern Paktia province, died some time after being shot despite receiving treatment at the scene.
Paktia has been the scene of fierce clashes in recent weeks as rebel warlord Padsha Khan has tried to unseat the governor, Taj Mohamad Wardak.
Khan has so far defied ultimatums to surrender and interim Afghan leader Hamid Kharzai has threatened to call in US assistance to bring the warlord to heel.
But Hilferty said it appeared that the US soldier had been killed by al-Qaeda or Taliban forces rather than having become a victim of local rivalries.
"Obviously we were patrolling in that area because we believed there was an al-Qaeda or Taliban presence. Until we identify the people shooting at us I cannot tell for sure who they were."
But he added: "I believe it probably was Taliban or al-Qaeda who ambushed us."
Hilferty said the death had brought home to US servicemen the potentially lethal nature of the campaign in Afghanistan.
"All the soldiers, and even civilians who are supporting us, understand that this is a dangerous business. This is a war. We realise that there are risks, we realise there are going to be casualties but even so one death does not deter us."
The spokesman said the firefight lasted several minutes after which US forces withdrew from the area.
"If people are firing at you you fire back, you suppress their fire so you can move away out of the fire."
British spokesman Major Geoff Moulton said British troops taking part in a major operation in eastern Afghanistan had so far had no contact with opposition forces.
"Operation Condor has entered its fifth day, 45 Commando continues to sweep through and clear the area. There has been no contact with the enemy as yet."
Around 10 suspected al-Qaeda or Taliban were killed in the early hours of Friday in an area attacked by US gunships after Australian special forces came under sustained fire several hours earlier.
An opposition fighter was killed in exchanges with the Australians but the coalition sustained no casualties.
The US soldier's death is the first US combat loss since eight troops were killed in March in a massive air assault on the Shahi Kot valley south of Gardez in Paktia province.
May 20, 2002 The New York Times
WASHINGTON, May 19 — An American Special Forces soldier was killed today in Afghanistan after his unit came under attack while on patrol in the eastern mountains where coalition forces have been operating, military officials said.
Late tonight, an American military spokesman identified the soldier who was killed as Sgt. Gene Arden Vance Jr., 38, of Morgantown, W.Va. The official, Maj. Mike Cadle, told the Associated Press that Sergeant Vance was in the 19th Special Forces Unit of the West Virginia National Guard. He had been in the Guard for 10 years and was married and had a daughter, Major Cadle said.
Officials at the Pentagon and at the military's Central Command said that details about the firefight remained sketchy tonight as coalition forces continued their search for the attackers. They also declined to describe the mission that brought the American troops into contact with the opposing forces until the operation was completed.
There was no confirmation of casualties among the opposing forces, the American officials said.
It was the first death of an American soldier in the conflict in Afghanistan since March, when coalition forces mounted an air and ground assault to seek Taliban and Qaeda fighters in the Shah-i-Kot Valley.
Since then, hundreds of coalition troops — especially American, Australian, British and Canadian forces — have scoured the mountainous southeastern corner of Afghanistan in a series of follow-up operations along the border with Pakistan.
But there had been no other contact between coalition ground forces and adversaries until today, although a number of arms caches containing rockets and small arms had been uncovered, officials said.
After Australian forces reported coming under attack on Thursday, British marines were dispatched to the area, with air cover supplied by American warplanes.
Monday, May 20, 2002 10:55 AM EDT
LONDON (AP) -- The commander of the British marine forces in Afghanistan is to be replaced after claims that he mishandled operations, lost the confidence of his men and infuriated British and U.S. officials.
The Ministry of Defense said Monday that Brig. Gen. Roger Lane will be moved next month to unspecified staff duties after ending his current assignment in Afghanistan. Brig. Gen. Jim Dutton will then take over as commander of the 3 Commando Brigade.
The government said the decision was not related to controversy surrounding Lane. A Ministry of Defense statement said the change was needed to give the Royal Marines ``more choice'' in personnel planning.
After the move dominated the news headlines Monday morning, the government later said the decision was made in February, but did not explain why it was announced Monday.
The announcement caused consternation because it came a day after Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said on national television that he had full confidence in the general.
``He is doing a tremendous job in very difficult conditions and he deserves -- and gets -- our complete support,'' Hoon said Sunday.
It was not possible to contact Lane for comment.
The dispatch of the marines to Afghanistan was widely played up by the British government and media in April. Newspapers, scornful of the performance of U.S. troops, predicted British troops would do much better.
But after several operations, the British force has yet to see combat. A heavily publicized detonation of weapons discovered during a sweep were later claimed to belong to a friendly Afghan chief.
The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Lane lost the confidence of his officers and men for mishandling operations and frantically tried to gain a military success. Lane also fell out with U.S. commanders over tactics, said the report, citing senior military sources.
Relations were so strained that U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks, head of Allied operations in Afghanistan, found out about the latest British operation from a TV report, the newspaper said.
Lane angered senior British and U.S. officials when he told reporters May 8 that the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban was ``all but won'' and offensive operations were grinding down as a result.
U.S. officials rejected any talk of an end date to the mission.
The BBC reported Monday that Hoon had been unhappy with Lane after he contradicted in October government statements that British forces were ready for combat in Afghanistan. Lane said they needed more training.
The opposition Conservative Party accused the government of trying to blame Lane for its own mistakes in inflating expectations about Britain's role in the war.
The New York Times
May 20, 2002
By CARLOTTA GALL
CHAR CHINE, Afghanistan, May 18 — A circle of trampled wheat stalks and dark bloodstains marked the place where the three villagers died, one of them a 13-year-old boy — gunned down in an American air attack as they hid in the wheat field, relatives and neighbors here said.
They were among five people killed when American Special Forces raided this small farming village in the province of Oruzgan, on the night of May 12. Villagers said they fled their homes in the dark as planes and helicopters strafed the houses and fields, fired rockets and then landed dozens of soldiers to search the houses. They detained at least 20 villagers and a number of visitors, they said.
"They were hiding when they were hit, they were crouching down," said Saleh Muhammad, who found his brother, Lal, 35, his brother's son, Mohibullah, 13, and a neighbor, Sher Muhammad, two days later lying in the wheat field. "His wife said he went out to hide in the fields," he said of his brother. "When we couldn't find them we thought they had been arrested. It was only when we noticed the smell that we found them," he said.
The American Central Command in Tampa, Fla., has released details about the operation, saying that Special Forces troops had raided a compound suspected of being a sanctuary for senior members of the Taliban and al Qaeda. The five killed had opened fire first, and 32 suspects had been detained for questioning, said Maj. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan.
["Our information, from a variety of sources, indicated that this was a pocket of al Qaeda and Taliban," Major Hilferty said on Sunday. "Our forces were fired upon and we responded appropriately to the threat to our forces." He said that "the detainees remain under U.S. control and we continue to question them."]
The remote regions of Oruzgan province and neighboring Helmand province are in fact suspected of harboring some of the most senior Taliban commanders, including the movement's reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and his most notorious commanders, Mullah Bradar and Mullah Dadullah. None have been seen since losing their spiritual capital, Kandahar, in December.
But villagers and the anti-Taliban Afghan leaders who are now in charge of the district said the people who were killed here were just farmers and workers who had come to help with the harvest. Another teenager was among those killed. The boy, Mira Jan, a farmhand was 14 or 15, too young still to grow a beard. He was shot through the stomach while sleeping outside in the muddy front yard of the farmhouse where he worked. A 27-year-old farm laborer was also badly injured by gunfire in the chest and leg and was taken to a hospital, a seven-hour drive, villagers said.
Muhammad Jan, 35, ran out of his house but no one saw how he died. His brother Pir Muhammad was harvesting his poppies the next morning when neighbors called him. They had found his brother in the field. "I only saw his face," the brother said. "There was a big hole between his eyes. You could put three fingers in the hole."
The target of the raid appears to have been the house of Sayed Abdul Rahman Aga, the chief Muslim cleric of the area. It is a large house with guest rooms where, according to tradition here, passing travelers and itinerant workers are allowed to stay. Sayed Aga, a gentle-spoken man wearing a white turban, who is widely known in the region for his anti-Taliban stance, said he had 30 guests for dinner that night, some of whom were rounded up in the raid.
Sayed Aga said he had been sleeping up on the roof when the attack came, and he fled down the back stairs into the fields, narrowly escaping a volley of rocket fire that pursued him through the fields. Crouching by a tree, he was slightly injured by shrapnel as the missiles slammed into the wheat field beside him. The rocket fire had gouged dozens of craters, at least a yard in diameter of bare earth, into the wheat and poppy fields and into one house behind his own.
He said he did not know most of his guests, who were passing through, but the ones he knew were not members of the Taliban or al Qaeda. One of them was the chief of the district agriculture section, he said. Relatives of the detainees clustered around a visitor to insist that they were poor farmers, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and traveling workers who had nothing to do with the Taliban or al Qaeda.
"What is our guilt, that the Americans bombed here?" asked one, Abdul Zahir, whose son was arrested. "We are responsible for keeping the Taliban away."
This harsh southern province, a place of bare mountains and sun-baked valleys, is where most of the Taliban's leaders were born and brought up. While Osama Bin Laden and his Qaeda followers appear to have moved eastward toward the Pakistan border after the collapse of the Taliban's government, Mullah Omar is thought to have taken to the mountains north of Kandahar where the mujahedeen survived for years fighting the Soviet Army.
Char Chine is the home village of Mullah Dadullah, and the former Taliban chief of staff, Mullah Fazel, who is reported to be among those imprisoned by the United States in Guantánamo, Cuba. Deh Rawud, a town to the south, was where Mullah Omar grew up and where he became friends with Mullah Bradar at the religious school.
Local leaders admit that senior Taliban leaders may be at large in the area, but they say they are probably high in the mountains or in remote hamlets, and certainly not living at home. "They are not coming here — if they did, we would arrest them or kill them," said Abdul Rahim, district chief in Deh Rawud.
The governor of Oruzgan province, Jan Muhammad, expressed frustration with the American raids — there have been two others in Mullah Bradar's home village just outside Deh Rawud in the last three months — which have only killed local people and have failed to net significant Taliban or Qaeda members.
The governor and district officials contended that the American Special Forces acted once again on faulty information and said they should have consulted with the people in charge in the province. They are also having to answer angry villagers, who until recently backed the Taliban and still feel tribal and family ties to the movement.
"They were ordinary people," Jan Muhammad said of the latest victims. "There were no al Qaeda or Taliban there. I know there are senior Taliban in these places, but the Americans should come and ask me. Instead they come from Kandahar and bombard my province."
He likened the latest raid to the fatal American attack of Jan. 23 on the town of Oruzgan, when Special Forces troops mistakenly killed 21 people, including some of his top commanders, who were loyal to the interim government of Hamid Karzai. The Pentagon has since admitted killing friendly forces but puts the death toll at 16.
A coalition strike near the city of Khost on Thursday that killed 10 people was also challenged by local residents, who said they were involved in a local dispute and had no ties to al Qaeda or the Taliban.
"People are saying you helped America and now they are bombing us," said Muhammad Ibrahim Akhunzada, one of Mr. Karzai's senior commanders and now chief of police in Deh Rawud district. "We are saying to the Americans that they should arrest and kill all al Qaeda, because they are our enemies and they should not be in Afghanistan anymore. But we are worried about them making mistakes and killing ordinary people."
There may have been some Taliban members at Sayed Aga's house or in the village that night who escaped, some officials admitted. But they also questioned the tactics of the Special Forces.
Sayed Aga and other villagers said at least one airplane and up to a dozen helicopters began the raid at 11:30 p.m., firing as they swooped in on the village. Helicopters landed in the fields, and soldiers and dogs emerged. Taxi drivers later reported that Americans blocked off one of the rough approach roads to the village and drove several vehicles in.
Some farmers were sleeping in the fields, and some were irrigating them. Others dashed out of their houses and ran into the fields. The soldiers fanned out, searching houses, breaking doors and rounding up the men, the villagers said. The women, who mostly hid indoors with the children, were left alone.
"It was hard to see," Sayed Aga said. "They were shooting from the air, and from the ground. They were throwing smoke grenades." He said that he climbed a steep hill behind the village and that the raid finally ended at 3:30 a.m.
Abdul Mutalib was irrigating the fields that night when he saw the helicopters come in. "I saw the helicopters shooting and also dogs," he said.
"There was a plane high above," he continued. "One dog came running toward me barking. I gave him my shawl. The Americans were calling back the dogs and then shooting. I just ran. I ran all the way to the next village, 10 kilometers away. I got there at 4 in the morning."
Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 14:30 GMT 15:30 BBC News
International coalition troops hunting al-Qaeda or Taleban fighters in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan have covered half of their search area without meeting any resistance, a British military spokesman said. Lieutenant Colonel Ben Curry said the British-led troops deployed had found a small amount of ammunition including two 120 mm rockets. A US spokesman has again defended an air attack on Thursday near the city of Khost which was called after Australian special forces came under fire and which sparked the latest search operation.
Members of the Sabari tribe said 10 fighters killed in the bombing were Sabari engaged in a dispute with a neighbouring tribe and they had not fired on coalition forces.
Tribesmen told US officers at Khost airport that their fighters had been skirmishing with Balkhiel rivals over some trees near their villages 30 miles (48 km) north of the city when the bombing began.
But a US military spokesman, Major Bryan Hilferty, said on Sunday that he had "no reason" to believe the Sabaris' version of events.
"They were shooting heavy machine gun and mortars at us," he said, the ridge attacked by the AC-130 gunship was a "known al-Qaeda and Taleban area".
About 1,000 coalition troops led by about 500 British marines are deployed in Paktia province to search for the militants.
Operation Condor, as the search is known, is taking place at heights of 6,000 to 8,000 feet where the air is thin.
Six marines have been evacuated from the operation, two with altitude sickness, one with a scorpion sting, and the others with acute sickness and diarrhoea.
Lieutenant Colonel Curry said on Sunday that another three British soldiers were due to return home after an outbreak of 'Winter Vomiting' disease at a field hospital at Bagram air base near Kabul.
At least 40 British personnel have been afflicted by the illness, which is characterised by one or two days of vomiting and diarrohea.
An infection control nurse has arrived from Britain to assess working practices at Bagram.
Spy plane lost
The British marines were sent to Paktia after another recent search operation in eastern Afghanistan failed to find any militants and soldiers were reported to be suffering form frustration at lack of combat.
Remaining militants are thought to have dispersed into small groups and blended in with local residents or fled across the border to neighbouring Pakistan.
The US air force has been supporting the search operation, using bases in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
An unmanned spy plane crashed not far from the military base at Jacobabad in Pakistan this week, the latest of several such crashes in the Afghan campaign. The BBC's Paul Adams, who is at Bagram air base, says the Condor operation could still prove a either a success or an embarrassment.
Monday, May 20, 2002 10:14 AM EST
KUWAIT CITY, May 20, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- A Kuwaiti Air Force plane, loaded with relief supplies to Afghanistan, will head for the Pakistani city of Beshawar next Monday, Kuwait's official KUNA news agency reported on Monday.
An official in the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society (KRCS) was quoted by KUNA as saying that the batch includes 21 tons of blankets, 12 fully-supplied camps and 100 boxes of food, including rice, sugar, tea and oil.
He said that the supplies will be delivered to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and then be distributed to the Afghan people.
In addition, the ICRC in Pakistan received on Sunday from the KRCS 250 tons of rice, designated for the residents in northern Afghanistan.
Last month, the KRCS concluded a contract with the Norwegian Red Cross to start a rescue service project in Afghanistan under the auspices of the ICRC.
According to the project, the KRCS will provide almost 1,000 tons of food to the Afghan people.
During a two-day donors conference held in the Japanese capital of Tokyo last January, Kuwait pledged 30 million U.S. dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan plagued by 23 years of war, disaster and devastation
By Dominic Evans
LONDON (Reuters) - A British-based Islamic news agency released video footage of Saudi-born dissident Osama Bin Laden on Sunday which it said was filmed just two months ago.
But the independent Arab satellite news network al-Jazeera said it had seen the tape three or four months ago and believed it was recorded in October.
The 100-second clip showed Bin Laden seated outside a stone building in a camouflage smock as he spoke to unseen supporters, extolling the merits of martyrdom.
If the film were just two months old it would be the first proof that Bin Laden survived the U.S. onslaught on his militant al Qaeda network and Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers after the September 11 suicide attacks in the United States.
Neither Bin Laden's comments nor the setting of the film -- under a tree against a backdrop of hills -- appeared to shed light on when it was filmed.
The Ansaar news agency said Pakistani intelligence officers who supplied the video said it was shot in March.
"We can't verify or confirm it," said Ansaar journalist Imran Khan. "But Bin Laden looks gaunt, thinner and paler." He said he believed it was filmed in the southern Afghan border town of Spin Boldak.
He said the footage was part of a 40-minute film which the agency obtained in Pakistan four weeks ago. It was brought to Britain on an encrypted CD-ROM which was only decoded and transcribed last week, Khan said.
"Concerning the situation that we are in, we must praise Allah that he has allowed us to follow the path of (men who are among) the best of creation," Bin Laden said.
"We ask Allah for victory, and we ask Allah to grant us martyrdom," added Washington's chief suspect for the September 11 suicide plane attacks in the United States.
Bin Laden MYSTERY
Ibrahim Helal, editor in chief of the Qatar-based al Jazeera, said his network had received the same tape three or four months ago. "We did not broadcast it because... he is not saying anything new," he told Reuters.
"My impression was that Bin Laden was speaking in October to encourage his followers to fight the Americans even before the start of the ground operations."
Bin Laden's fate remains unclear since the U.S. retaliatory strikes on his Afghan strongholds. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair said last week he had no idea where he was. "But I've got no doubt in the end we will secure him," Blair added.
In the last video of the fugitive, which emerged last month, Bin Laden warned that the United States would not feel safe until Palestinians enjoyed peace and vowed Muslims would fight on despite their relative military weakness.
That undated video sounded as if it could have been made ahead of the attacks on New York and Washington -- attacks which Bin Laden has never clearly claimed responsibility for.
A separate clip in the 40-minute film released on Sunday featured an interview with Bin Laden carried out by a reporter from the Arab satellite news network al-Jazeera, in which Bin Laden warned that any country which sided with Israel or the United States would be an al Qaeda target.
Referring to comments by one of his aides specifically targeting Britain and the United States, Bin Laden said: "This war is not confined to them."
Khan said the interview was filmed in November but had not been broadcast by al-Jazeera.
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 20, 2002
Kabul, May 19: Forget ID badges or official cars. If you want to know who rules in Kabul, look at headgear.
During the five years the Taliban Islamic militia was in power, officials donned black turbans. These days, the symbol of power is the pakul, a round, flat-topped hat resembling a low souffle, made famous by the mujaheddin rebels who fought the Soviets in the 1980s.
"Nobody would buy this before. It was called an opposition hat," said Nader, 26, gesturing to the soft brown-and-beige wool pakuls (pronounced PAH-cools) hanging in his stand in central Kabul's Pul-e-Kheshti bazaar. In the past few months, the pakuls have sold briskly, said Nader, who like many Afghans uses only one name. "When something is trendy, everybody buys it."
But the pakul represents more than a sartorial shift. For years, hats have signaled the winners and losers in a country riven by cultural and political wars.
These days, the winners are the followers of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance commander who led the fight against the Taliban. Massoud, who was as famous for his pakul as Che Guevara was for his beret, was assassinated Sept. 9, but he is the hero of today's Kabul.
Portraits of Massoud in his pakul are plastered everywhere, far outnumbering pictures of the country's interim leader, Hamid Karzai. A major avenue is now the Great Massoud Road. Poems and ballads sing Massoud's praise. Hundreds of soccer fans, many in pakuls, recently packed a stadium for the ultimate tribute: the Massoud Cup.
Massoud's men control key government ministries. While the top officials might wear Western-style suits, many of their followers are pakul people.
They are men like Nazeef, 22, one of a knot of pakul-wearing guards at an intelligence agency office. "The pakul became a law, because Ahmed Shah Massoud wore it. And we are his followers," said Nazeef, a former fighter.
The pakul, the guards noted, is identified with the north, the home of many of the Taliban's enemies. For most of the past 300 years, the top national leaders in Kabul have been from the Pashtun tribes concentrated in the south. Tensions between northerners and southerners have flared into war. Today, some complain that the northerners -- -particularly people from Massoud's native Panjshir Valley -- have taken too much power.
Not everyone follows the law of the pakul. Many Kabul residents stay away from politically charged fashion altogether. They wear traditional religious caps, regional dress or no hat at all. And most women still wear burqas, head-to-toe veils. But, among men, the pakuls seem more palatable than the Taliban headgear.
"We were afraid of the black turbans. But not the pakuls," said Abdul Shokoor Omaid, 31, who has watched the changes in fashion and politics from his tailor shop in northern Kabul.
Under the Taliban, Omaid's business slumped. He wasn't allowed to measure women or sew Western-style clothes. The Taliban, with its strict interpretation of the Islamic ban on human images and idols, outlawed the fashion catalogues used to copy styles.
"We would hide them in here," said Omaid, pulling out a drawer to show a false compartment. Today, he openly displays the Summer 2000 Neiman Marcus catalogue on his counter. Men's suits and women's dresses line the wall.
Headgear has been an important symbol in Afghanistan's fractious century-old debate over how to combine modernity with Islamic tradition. In the late 1920s, King Amanullah tried to impose on the capital a Western dress code that included fedoras. It contributed to his overthrow.
The mujaheddin fighters adopted the pakul in the 1980s, as they fought the Soviet invaders. The warm wool hat, traditionally worn in northeastern Afghanistan, was practical in their mountain redoubts. When the rebels forced out the Soviets, the pakuls were a badge of victory.
But the rebel groups then turned their guns on each other, destroying Kabul and much of their popular support. When the Taliban fighters arrived, with their tightly wound black turbans, pakuls virtually vanished. Young men could be jailed for donning the cap that had now become a symbol of the anti-Taliban rebels.
These days, it is the black turbans that have vanished. Pakuls are in. But at the hat markets in the bazaar, other garb is appearing, too, like the karakul, the lamb's-wool hat favored by the educated elite of pre-communist days.
For the next generation, the bazaar is offering something else.
"At school, the Taliban used to say, 'Wear turbans, not those American caps,' " said Abdul Mateen, 16, a salesman hawking baseball hats emblazoned with Nike or Reebok emblems. Now, he said, "This is the fashion."
Kabul, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Six months after the fall of the Taliban, nothing much has changed in the old town of Kabul.
Fluttering flags in makeshift graveyards where the dead were buried at night during lulls in factional fighting poke out from pale rubble, thousands of bullet holes and rocket blasts still scar the remaining mud walls.
The Afghans camping in the derelict mosques and Sikh and Hindu temples that were the only buildings to survive when Shur Bazaar, or ``Sour Bazaar,'' was a battleground eight years ago say they have seen nothing of the pledges of millions of dollars of aid.
``Liberty is the only thing that has changed,'' said Habib Rahman, 48. ``Otherwise I have received nothing.''
There are plenty of signs of regeneration in the Afghan capital since the fundamentalist Taliban militia was kicked out last year following a massive U.S. air campaign, and since international donors pledged $1.7 billion in aid in January at a conference in Tokyo.
Trees are being planted in the city's once lush parks. Signs of war such as bullet holes are gradually being covered with fresh mud or paint.
Outside the city of just under two million, U.S. army engineers are reopening blocked water wells while civilian and military demining experts are trying to make vineyards and fields safe to work again.
The United Nations has signed deals with non-governmental organizations to distribute construction materials to build 13,200 homes across the country.
But in Shur Bazaar, which lies beneath the once daunting walls of the ancient Bala Hissar fort, the only help its 300,000 residents have received from the interim administration and its international backers is a bag of wheat and some blankets.
Pounded by years of rocket fire when rival warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar occupied two overlooking hills and also fought government troops stationed in the bazaar, most of the area's homes are now just mounds of earth.
The residents want to rebuild. But they are not allowed to.
``That is intentional,'' said Nasir Saberi, an advisor to the minister for Housing, Building and Town Planning, a new portfolio.
``We don't want it to be another slum,'' Saberi said.
The ministry is drawing up plans to rebuild the area, including a street where Kabul's musicians traditionally congregated and renovating its historic mosques and temples.
But while ambitious reconstruction plans have yet to leave the drawing board, the crushed infrastructure of Kabul is coming under enormous strain from a flood of returning refugees, mainly from neighboring Pakistan.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, around 600,000 of Afghanistan's four million diaspora have come home this year.
Many of the returnees bring the building blocks of a new Afghanistan with them -- capital, skills and a determination to create a better future without war.
Yet even the most resourceful feel frustrated at a perceived lack of help.
``The Tokyo pledges sounded fantastic,'' said Seema Ghani, 33, who gave up a well-paid job at an accountancy firm in London to end 12 years of exile from her homeland.
``But we haven't had it yet. We're in a Catch-22. They (the donors) are worried about security and so they withhold the funds, but we need to invest in order to get security.''
Those who stayed in Shur Bazaar while up to 200 rockets a day rained down during the years of infighting that followed the end of Soviet occupation in 1989 are equally impatient.
``I'd prefer the odd rocket to this,'' said Mohammad Daoud, an angry young man struggling to feed five children.
``We don't have any houses. Everything is rubble. The refugees coming back are just driving us further up the hills.''
Monday May 20, 12:44 AM
KABUL (Reuters) - Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan is falling short of the devastated country's needs, with emergency food programmes facing a funding crisis and returning refugees overwhelming the United Nations, aid workers said on Sunday.
Unless the dispersal of funds speeds up to match exploding demand, Afghanistan's progress to peace and stability after the fall of the Taliban regime could break down, officials said.
"But time is not really on our side here, time is not on the side of Afghans," Yusuf Hassan, spokesman in Kabul for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told Reuters.
"If this vote of confidence of people voting with their feet to come back home is not supported by a rapid injection of assistance in health, sanitation, in the reconstruction of the country to provide employment opportunities, then obviously it is not going to be sustainable," Hassan said.
The UNHCR had planned for the return of 800,000 refugees, mainly from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, by the end of 2002 and has a $270 million budget to help them.
But those numbers appear increasingly unrealistic and will be reviewed at the end of the month.
Up to May 18, 633,343 Afghan refugees out of some four million living in exile had come home.
Donor nations, meanwhile, have released just $171 million of the UNHCR's promised funds.
If the rest of the money is not forthcoming, the agency can continue with its programme for returnees until the end of June.
Other aid organisations are facing more immediate problems.
The International Organisation of Migration, which provides transport for returning refugees, is already out of cash.
The World Food Programme has had to suspend several projects that have been helping to keep some of the nine million Afghans subsisting on humanitarian food supplies alive.
WFP spokesman Alejandro Chicheri said the organisation had now received $105 million to pay for emergency food deliveries. However, the programme remained 48 percent underfunded.
"We need the cash now," Chicheri told reporters in Kabul.
WAITING AND WATCHING
Aid officials are loath to speak of donor fatigue so early in Afghanistan's reconstruction following the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda, whom Washington blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States.
But the country's woes have slipped from the front pages as attentions turn to the Middle East and the billions in aid pledged at a donors conference in Tokyo in January are looking suspect to many Afghans.
Aid workers say there is no reluctance to pay for humanitarian aid. But many donor nations are biding their time, waiting for the establishment of effective government structures before releasing their contributions.
Meanwhile, the country is a wreck.
The UNHCR estimates that 40 percent of refugees are going back to areas where not a single house remains standing after 23 years of war. Wells are dry after years of drought and many fields are still mined.
Relatively peaceful Afghanistan has been in part a victim of its own success and the number of returnees could soar further if next month's Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council, succeeds in picking a new government with broad backing.
"They are putting their faith of course in Allah but they expect the interim administration and the international community to assist them, and we shouldn't fail them," Hassan said.
By Tom Bowman
The Baltimore Sun May 20, 2002
WASHINGTON - The U.S.-led conflict in Afghanistan may one day be remembered less for the ouster of the Taliban or as the first salvo in the war on terrorism than for the pilotless aircraft that cruised silently and almost unseen above the barren landscape.
The aircraft, called unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, are in their infancy but will become crucial around 2020, Pentagon officials predict. Making long, high loops over a battlefield, they will provide live video of enemy forces, even peering through dense jungle foliage. Others will eavesdrop on communications, drop precision bombs or land in rugged terrain to resupply U.S. troops.
Historians of the future may view the Afghanistan campaign as a turning point in warfare, like the Battle of Crecy in 1346, when the English used an emerging technology - the longbow - to defeat the French.
In Afghanistan, a Predator drone fired a Hellfire air-to-ground missile - a first in combat - and streamed real-time video to U.S. warplanes, allowing pinpoint targeting. Another drone, the Global Hawk, made its debut last fall 65,000 feet over Afghanistan, lingering above the battlefield for up to 35 hours, tracking enemy vehicles and transmitting photos to U.S. commanders.
"In Afghanistan, [the drone is] pretty much battle-proven now," Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, said at a recent meeting with reporters. "Everybody's got a UAV concept going."
The Pentagon plans to spend $5 billion to research, develop and buy drones over the next five years, nearly doubling the money spent in the past decade. Advocates say that besides providing round-the-clock battlefield surveillance, a $35 million Global Hawk, or a smaller drone, is less expensive than manned aircraft, which can easily cost twice as much, and there is no risk to aircrews.
Pilotless aircraft can tackle the most dangerous missions, such as attacking air defenses, said Lt. Col. Doug Boone, who oversees UAVs for the Air Force. Then manned aircraft can move in to finish off the enemy.
But technical hurdles remain, defense analysts and Pentagon officials say, and some in the tradition-bound military remain cautious.
By 2015, Pentagon officials say, about 10 percent of combat strike aircraft will be unmanned, operated by a ground controller tapping away at a computer terminal. Up to 40 percent of U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft will be pilotless, officials say, replacing the fabled U-2 and other manned planes that have spied high in the skies for decades.
While the Predator is the size of a Cessna light plane and Global Hawk has a 116-foot wingspan that exceeds that of a Boeing 737, futuristic surveillance drones under development are expected to be small enough to fit in a soldier's pack.
Although remote-control aircraft had their beginnings in World War II, it was not until the early 1980s that the Israelis made the first sustained use of drones, employing them to watch Syrian and Palestinian forces in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, U.S. unmanned aircraft kept an eye on Iraqi forces. And in the 1990s, the Predator flew operationally for the first time, over Bosnia.
'Shifting the balance'
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sees development of drones as a key part of his effort to pull the services into the 21st century, shedding such Cold War arms as heavy tanks and artillery. Rumsfeld's recurring mantra has been stealth, mobility, long-range bombing and superior intelligence - the crucial information that can come from the constant presence of a UAV over the battlefield.
"We must begin shifting the balance in our arsenal between manned and unmanned capabilities," he wrote in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, "between short- and long-range systems, between stealthy and nonstealthy systems. ... And we must make the leap into the Information Age, which is the critical foundation of all our transformation efforts."
Pressing ahead with the development of drones presents challenges that involve the technical - developing more-sophisticated sensors and transmitting information to commanders and combat pilots at lightning speed - and the cultural - that is, overcoming the affection of the uniformed military for the tried-and-true.
Initially, the U.S. armed services were reluctant to devote money and effort to drones, defense officials and lawmakers say, out of uncertainty how pilotless aircraft would fit into their war plans and concerns that the new technology would drain funding from other weapons.
"The Air Force wasn't enamored of unmanned aerial vehicles," Rumsfeld told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, while pressing lawmakers to support his attempts to transform the military into a more high-tech force.
"Change comes, but it doesn't come with the greatest speed," said Sen. John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, proposed two years ago to "aggressively develop" pilotless aircraft. About $200 million was then pumped into development efforts for the Predator and Global Hawk, the latter only a prototype when it flew over Afghanistan.
A Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity recalled how a Predator flying over Afghanistan in recent months alerted an AC-130 gunship to a target by providing live, color video of enemy fighters with shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles. The pictures enabled the gunship to quickly dispatch the gunmen and to avoid striking a nearby mosque.
As the gunship fired, some of the enemy fighters fled to a nearby hide-out and were followed by the Predator, the official said. The Predator relayed their position to the gunship.
"They don't know what's coming after them," the official said. "They can't see any of this stuff."
Prodding the services
Such stories have gone a long way toward convincing the services that there is a place for the drones on the battlefield. But Pentagon officials say they still have to prod the services to incorporate the drones into their budgets and their battle plans.
The Pentagon "would like to see the services work harder to integrate UAVs into their force structure," said Dyke D. Weatherington of the Pentagon's UAV Planning Task Force.
Another defense official, who asked not to be named, said the Army, of the four services, appears to be making the best use of the burgeoning technology, with plans to purchase 66 Shadow surveillance drones for its active and reserve units during the next few years. The Shadow, which has a 13-foot wingspan and can be controlled from a Humvee, will give Army units an "over the hill" view of the enemy.
But technical challenges lie ahead. Though Weatherington says "the pace of the technology is moving along very well," some are less certain.
Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst with the Brookings Institution, said the services have yet to develop the sophisticated software and the more advanced communication links that will be needed to convey data to decision-makers.
"Both those things are in need of a lot more work," he said.
Moreover, skeptics note that some Predators have crashed because of bad weather and icing. Automatic de-icers have been added. And critics say that some low-flying and slow-moving drones are susceptible to an enemy with a sophisticated air defense system.
On Saturday, an unmanned U.S. spy plane crashed in southwestern Pakistan. A Pentagon spokesman said the aircraft was returning from a mission when it crashed and that the drone had not been shot down. The wreckage has been recovered, and the cause of the crash is under investigation.
However, some officers say they wish that more drones had been available in Afghanistan, and U.S. strategists are working them into long-range plans.
Some U.S. officers say the lack of drones is making life difficult on the battlefield. In Operation Anaconda in March, U.S. soldiers immediately came under fire from al-Qaida fighters at some landing zones. Seven American soldiers were killed.
Lt. Gen. Robert Noonan, the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said unmanned surveillance aircraft might have alerted the troops to the enemy's presence.
"If we had more UAVs ... on those landing zones, we wouldn't have had this problem," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 19, 2002; Page A16
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, May 18 -- U.S. military officials confirmed today that at least 10 people were killed by airstrikes during a coalition operation in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
But the officials denied Afghan reports that the U.S. bombing raid had hit a village where a tribal wedding was taking place, saying they were aiming at an uninhabited area where Australian commandos had come under attack Thursday.
"It wasn't a village, it was an uninhabited ridge, and there were people on it firing at us," said Maj. Bryan Hilferty, the U.S. military spokesman at Bagram, north of Kabul.
"Reports that we fired on a wedding are absolutely wrong," he said. "There was no one in a white dress."
Hilferty said about 1,000 coalition troops were "continuing aggressive reconnaissance and surveillance" in the Khost mountains in an operation that began early Friday morning in response to a machine-gun attack against the Australians.
He and other officials said the commandos had been searching an area they believed Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were using as a way station for smuggling weapons and supplies. The area borders a tribal region of Pakistan, where some fighters are believed to be hiding.
Lt. Col. Ben Curry, the British military spokesman here, said the coalition force was "moving through" and "clearing the area" but had not come under further attack or sighted enemy fighters.
Other British officials suggested Friday that during the sweep, called Operation Condor, troops had encountered numerous enemy forces and had killed an undetermined number of them. They added that the operation might last for days. Today, officials scaled back that description substantially, indicating that the earlier comments had been inaccurate.
Officials have not disclosed the exact location of the operation, except to say that it is in a mountainous area covering tens of square miles in the northern stretches of Khost province near the Pakistan border.
Curry offered new details of Thursday's firefight, in which he said two Australian commando teams were fired on from several positions and "harried" for four to five hours. "They were followed actively and aggressively," he said. Curry said there were no Australian casualties, but one attacker was killed.
Curry and Hilferty said the Australians called in U.S. airstrikes. AC-130 and helicopter gunships from Bagram responded and dropped bombs on the area.
Some Afghan officials and Pakistani media reported Friday that the bombers had struck a village where a wedding was taking place and mistook celebratory gunfire for an attack. Other reports suggested two tribal groups were fighting over a disputed piece of land and may have fired at the warplanes.
Hilferty said coalition intelligence sources had been watching the targeted area for several days and believed it was used by Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in a smuggling operation.
The rugged and lawless Khost region has been the focus of repeated coalition raids over the past several months. Numerous Taliban and al Qaeda fighters retreated there after the Taliban was toppled in November, and a coalition operation in March killed many of them. The region is also the scene of armed clashes among tribal militias. One major militia leader was allied with coalition forces but has since turned against the Afghan government and its Western backers.
EU Commissioner to assess aid in Kabul
The European Union (EU) Commissioner for External Affairs, Chris Patten, is in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on a mission that EU Commission officials say will affect the way in which future reconstruction assistance is spent.
Mr Patten is assessing how EU subsidies are being used.
In a BBC interview before his arrival, Mr Patten said the 'real problem' was ensuring proper government structures were in place so aid money could be spent effectively.
He said the EU had made a 'good start' in helping Afghanistan with its rebuilding programme, but acknowledged there were still difficulties to be tackled.
Last week, Mr Patten said the EU's help was conditional on efforts by Afghanistan's leaders to establish a representative government, to eliminate terrorism and to crack down on the production of narcotic drugs as they had promised in Bonn last December.
From the newsroom of the BBC World Service
Refugees returning from Iran to the city of Herat in western Afghanistan say Iranian soldiers and officials harassed them on the way.
Many of those arriving at UN reception centres say they used their entire savings to pay bribes on the two-day journey from Tehran.
Of some two million Afghans who fled to Iran to escape war and drought, about forty-thousand have returned under a UN aid programme.
Many impoverished subsistence farmers who went to Herat from the drought-stricken northern provinces are also reported to be heading home, as spring rains have led them to hope for the first reasonable harvest in several years.
From the newsroom of the BBC World Service
By John Donnelly, Boston Globe Staff, 5/20/2002
HERAT, Afghanistan - Governor Ismail Khan, the self-declared emir of northwest Afghanistan, strode into the room of about 20 poor women, his aides trailing close behind. The women swarmed him. They kissed his hands and loudly praised his name to God, even though it was near midnight and he had kept them waiting for hours.
No matter. Khan, they knew, could improve their lot, if he would take pity. One by one they sat by his feet and told him their troubles, and Khan began scribbling his judgments - $6 and a 110-pound bag of rice to one, a passport at no charge to another, and a promised second hearing for a third woman's imprisoned son.
This is how things work in western Afghanistan, where nearly everything, even the requests of hungry women, goes before Khan, a short, stocky man with a regal white beard that gives him the look of a pasha from long ago.
''There are too many women who want to see me,'' Khan said, smiling as he left the room.
After the Taliban era, many see Khan as a largely benevolent leader, lording over a city that is benefiting from trade from Iran and lucrative transportation contracts with the United Nations.
But some Afghan and Western observers note signs that Khan has become much more rigid since he oversaw Herat in the early 1990s. They questioned whether he will ever follow directions from an interim central government in Kabul or allow social and cultural change to flourish alongside his recently planted gardens.
So far, Khan, who claims to have 30,000 armed troops, has turned over no money to the central government from local taxes and given only about 180 soldiers for the national army. He has angered one local constituency as well: educated women, who remain upset that Khan abruptly cancelled the celebration of International Women's Day in March.
Many leaders feel like they have been pushed aside during the early months of Khan's rule, several said. None would speak on the record, fearing retribution.
While Bush administration officials are closely watching Khan's warm relationship with Iran, ''the main problem in this region is that the educated and civilian part of society has been kept out of the power structure,'' said a Western observer in Herat, speaking on condition of anonymity. ''Ismail Khan has become much more ideological and very rigid on political and social issues.''
Khan himself, an ethnic Tajik who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, said social change would evolve slowly. In a recent interview, a visitor was told he must address the governor as His Excellency The Emir.
Asked about women's rights, he said, ''We should not expect that all freedoms to be given right away because people are not ready for it. You can talk to every single woman in Herat and they will express their opinion. In Europe, you know, women are not content about their rights. In Europe, the salaries of women are 25 percent less than that of men, so we can't be perfect.''
Nafisa Rahimi said Khan was not properly informed when he canceled the women's celebration in March.
Rahimi, who works on gender issues for Oxfam, organized a luncheon for 500 people. When Khan was invited the day before to come, he said not only that he would not attend, but that no one would. Rahimi frantically tried to get an audience.
She went to his palace. The guards said he was asleep. She went to the Foreign Relations Department. An official told her, ''You did not advise us, that's why we canceled it,'' she said.
Finally she found a sympathetic ear in Khan's driver.
''He said that the only way to talk to him would be if I hid behind his door and when he drove the governor past me he would slow down,'' Rahimi said.
The driver did as promised. Rahimi jumped out. ''I managed to say something to him, but he didn't want to talk. He said, `I don't accept what you are saying.' He really let me down. I was so disappointed.''
That night, she called Oxfam's Kabul office, weeping as she told the story. The next morning, she returned to the Foreign Relations Department.
''I was very angry,'' Rahimi said. ''I called the person there a lot of bad names. I told him that even the Taliban was better than him. I said if they closed down the hotel where we were going to celebrate, we will celebrate in the streets.''
They never did. The government closed down the hotel, and then kept it closed for a month.
''It was a very sad day for everyone and for me,'' said Abu Diek, the top United Nations representative in Herat, who also tried to overturn Khan's decision.
Diek and other UN employees in Herat also have battled with Khan's administration over transportation contracts.
It's a huge moneymaker for Khan's government. One of the most lucrative deals is with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, which are organizing the flow of 2,000 to 2,500 refugees each day from Iran into Herat and beyond.
After complaints from the UN on the cost of the earlier contracts, the Herati truckers' consortium offered a 50 percent reduction. When the UN refused to accept it, and called it an abitrary reduction, Khan stepped in. The dispute, though, remains unresolved.
''They believe all we've got to do is shake the donor tree and dollars will fall out,'' said a frustrated Danny W. Gill, senior operations officer for the migration organization, who oversees 50 international staff and 200 staff in Herat.
Other international officials suggested that individuals in Khan's government have reaped huge profits from the contracts. Haji Abdul Baqi, the transportation minister, said the government takes a 2 percent cut.
Khan's rule isn't a series of conflicts, though. The women who saw him one recent night tightly clutched their papers that contained his gift. Some wept.
''My son is detained, and I don't have anything,'' said Zobaida, as she was ready to leave the room at 12:45 a.m. ''He is innocent.''
Khan, across the room, was listening to her intently.
''Say the truth,'' he shouted, laughing. ''Why are you lying? Her son is a thief. He was a Talib before, and he got caught stealing a car.''
Zobaida, who had received $6 and a large bag of rice, seemed to shake her head. ''I am desperate,'' she said, more softly this time. ''I came to him because I don't have any other place to go. ''
Khan prepared to leave. A roomful of men in another part of the palace were still waiting. ''I am very happy,'' he said, ''because I do the people's work.''
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 19, 2002; Page A16
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Master Sgt. Bart Decker remembers riding on horseback to the top of the highest peak south of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan in November and watching the Taliban flee in pickups and four-wheel drives, their headlights illuminating the only road out of town to the east.
It was almost too easy.
Flicking on his Global Positioning System receiver, Decker calculated coordinates for either end of a narrow stretch of highway and radioed them to B-52 bombers and F-16 fighters loitering overhead. Then he watched, horse by his side, as bombs rained down from the sky, striking the vehicles and killing their occupants with devastating precision.
Decker is an Air Force Special Operations combat controller, an unlikely super-warrior. His core skill is air-traffic control and his most potent weapon a Global Positioning System receiver available at the average electronics store.
Yet, in a war driven by precise information about Taliban and al Qaeda targets, Decker and other combat controllers, embedded in Army Special Forces A teams, emerged as pivotal figures in the fusion of U.S. targeters on the ground with precision strikes from the air, the conflict's most important tactical innovation.
Gul Haidar, an Afghan militia leader who has fought against the Russians and with the Americans, said the air-ground coordination was the key to the victory by U.S.-led Northern Alliance forces last year against al Qaeda and the Taliban militia that sheltered the terrorist network.
"The people with Special Forces controlling the jets are very effective -- they really know what they are doing," he said. "It was American aircraft that broke the front line of the al Qaeda."
Like Decker, four other combat controllers interviewed at Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters here told dramatic stories of airstrikes they called in during the early stages of the war, talking jets they could barely see onto targets they had identified using Global Positioning System satellite coordinates, laser beams or infrared pointers.
One controller, a technical sergeant named Calvin who did not want his last name used, arrived in Afghanistan on Oct. 21 and called in airstrikes for 25 straight days, averaging 10 to 30 per day.
On the 25th day, with Northern Alliance forces amassed for a final assault on Kabul, the Afghan capital, and coming under heavy fire from more than 1,000 Taliban fighters, Calvin called in the coordinates of a "kill box" covering the entire Taliban front.
Minutes later, 27 2,000-pound Mark-82 bombs saturated the zone. The ground shook, a two-story building serving as Calvin's lookout post began collapsing from the shock, and all Taliban firing ceased. The final advance on Kabul soon began, he said.
"When you roll in a B-52 and put those bombs exactly on their front lines and spread that out for 300 or 400 meters long -- that's where you're devastating the enemy and breaking their back," Calvin said.
Air Force Secretary James G. Roche said this fusion of Special Forces on the ground and strikes from the air has the Air Force envisioning a much greater air-to-ground role for its most advanced new weapon, the F-22 stealth fighter.
In future wars, he said, the fusion will be enhanced by new devices. These include Global Positioning System satellite receivers that load target coordinates directly into guided munitions, smart bombs that use "terminal guidance seekers" to lock onto moving targets and "small diameter" smart bombs that will enable an F-22 to hit as many as eight targets and a B-2 stealth bomber as many as 216 on a single sortie.
Decker, 40, a native of McHenry, Ill., who joined the Air Force at 22 after a brief career as a construction worker, said most Special Forces troops can "take one aircraft" and call in an airstrike. But combat controllers, he said, can "rack and stack" half a dozen fighters and heavy bombers like jetliners over a commercial airport before directing them to targets in rapid succession.
"If you can't get them on target quickly, those [planes] go home with ordnance -- and you've lost," Decker says. "That's air-space management, and that's what we do best."
Decker's war on terrorism began in early October, when he took over management of the control tower at Karsi Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, guiding in giant C-17 cargo planes within hours.
But it was the "terminal attack" skills of Decker and his fellow combat controllers -- there are only 400 in the entire U.S. military -- that distinguished them on the battlefield once the Special Forces A teams were inserted into Afghanistan.
As the war wore on, the weapon of choice became the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), a 2,000-pound bomb that is guided to its target by signals from satellites.
The JDAM made its battlefield debut in Kosovo in 1999, providing all-weather precision capability for the first time. Unlike laser-guided bombs, a JDAM's guidance system is not impeded by cloud cover.
But without combat controllers and other Special Forces troops on the ground in Kosovo, most strike aircraft could only take off on combat missions with predetermined target coordinates.
The presence of Special Forces in Afghanistan made flexible targeting possible, officials said, greatly reducing the amount of time it took to identify and attack targets.
Instead of taking off with pre-programmed bombs, fighters and bombers flew into Afghanistan and were assigned to specific combat controllers on the ground, who gave them targets to attack.
"A JDAM allows you to target faster," said a combat controller named Jason, who did not want his last name used. "I can hit six different targets with six different JDAMs on one drop -- and it will totally shift the momentum of the battle."
Combat controllers must understand the capabilities of every jet in the sky and the blast radius of the different weapons they drop. In Air Force parlance, every bomb has a PI factor -- short for "personnel incapacitation."
For a 2,000-pound bomb, for example, controllers know that friendly forces must be 500 meters away to ensure their safety. A 2,000-pound bomb is so powerful that, even at 225 meters -- a distance greater than two football fields -- the PI factor would be 10 percent, meaning that 10 percent of friendly forces would be incapacitated for at least five minutes.
Another combat controller, a 27-year-old staff sergeant named Mike, who also asked that his last name not be used, returned here from Afghanistan with a whole new appreciation for personnel incapacitation. He was 50 feet away from a JDAM detonation.
He had just called in an airstrike on Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners during a riot at the Qala-i-Jhangi prison outside Mazar-e Sharif in late November. But instead of entering the enemy's coordinates into the bomb, a pilot apparently punched in those of Mike and other friendly forces instead.
A Northern Alliance tank absorbed much of the impact. "I can't see anything, I can't hear anything, my whole body is in shock from the explosion," Mike said, describing how the blast propelled him 30 feet into the air. "Before I hit the ground, I thought, 'I'm probably dead right now.' "
Although the blast flipped the tank upside down and killed several Northern Alliance fighters inside, Mike survived, suffering only scratched corneas and perforated eardrums.
Not everyone was so fortunate. Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, a combat controller, was one of seven soldiers killed in early March when a helicopter inserting Special Forces troops during the U.S. offensive against al Qaeda in the Shahikot valley came under fire. Another was shot on the battlefield north of Kandahar in December and lost an arm.
Back in Special Forces training, Mike remembers the ribbing he took when he arrived at Fort Bragg, N.C., for Army jump training. "You show up as an Air Force controller and they say, 'What are you doing here?' " Mike recalled. "We've always been the guys in the middle of the mix, the guys no one really talks about -- until now."
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Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).