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Tactics Changing for Both Coalition Forces, Terrorists in Afghanistan

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2004 – U.S. and coalition actions in Afghanistan have forced terrorist groups operating there to change their strategies. So coalition forces continue to adapt their tactical approach in response, the top U.S. general in that country said today.

Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, explained that Taliban forces used to attack coalition elements in large numbers, until they realized that would get them killed in large numbers. Today terrorists go after soft targets in smaller numbers, Barno said from Afghanistan in a video teleconference with Pentagon reporters.

He said he sees enemy forces "adapting and changing (their) tactics, based upon the progress the Afghan people and government have made."

Barno pointed out that "last summer we would encounter hundreds of Taliban in the field and other terrorists in large groups." He called that contact "a non- habit-forming way to encounter coalition forces."

"They were destroyed in large numbers. So they have adapted their tactics, based on that," he said.

Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists operating in Afghanistan have realized they can't effectively attack coalition military forces, so they have started to focus their attacks on other areas, such as nongovernmental aid organizations.

To combat this change in tactics, coalition forces are moving toward "a classic counterinsurgency strategy," Barno said. Over the past three months, commanders have been sending small units, from battalions down to platoons, into areas for long-term stays.

These units "operate continuously out of those areas; maintain and develop relations with the tribal elders, with the mullahs, with the local government officials; (and) work hand in hand with the (coalition provincial reconstruction teams) that are now going into those areas," Barno said. "And the units then ultimately get great depth of knowledge, understanding and much better intelligence access to the local people in those areas by 'owning,' as it were, those chunks of territory."

The general called this "a fairly significant change" in the tactical approach and said it has resulted in more weapons caches turned in by local civilians.

Better cooperation with Pakistani forces is also leading to increased security in Afghanistan. In what Barno described as "a hammer-and-anvil approach," Pakistani military and paramilitary troops drive terrorist forces out of Pakistani frontier lands and over the Afghan border where coalition and Afghan national military forces are waiting for them.

"(We're using) our forces in concert with the Afghan forces on this side of the border to be able to crush the al Qaeda elements between the Pakistani and the coalition forces," he said.

Pakistani forces are also taking major steps to rein in lawlessness in tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Barno said the Pakistani government had not previously sought control in these frontier lands, which are widely believed to harbor terrorists and their supporters.

During the past six to eight weeks, Pakistani government forces have been using "innovative" means to enlist the help of tribal leaders to "uncover and disrupt terrorist organizations that may be living and operating in their midst," Barno said.

He said that ultimate responsibility for driving the terrorists out of Pakistan's border regions lies with the Pakistani government, and he expressed optimism that it would happen.

"The efforts that I see that have evolved with the Pakistani military here over the last two or three months show the greatest promise we have seen in a while of ensuring that those al Qaeda forces in those areas are driven out," he said.

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Related Sites:
Combined Joint Task Force 7
Coalition Provisional Authority
Text of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's Letter to al Qaeda Leaders

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