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Smart Weapons Aiding the War on Terror

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Washington, November 25, 2001 | Bruce Cuthbertson (202-225-5355) | comments
Imagine being a soldier in a war zone, one that for the moment is quiet. You see no movement and you hear nothing. Suddenly, the silence is shattered as your equipment, for no apparent reason, simply starts exploding. Tanks, gun emplacements, everything-it all just blows up.
That, according to a recent account in The Washington Post, was the fate suffered by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan thanks to U.S. bombing attacks. According to the paper, “bombs were dropped from U.S. warplanes that were at such a high altitude they could be neither seen nor heard. Suddenly, the world around Taliban troops would begin to explode.”

The damage was both physical and psychological, said one U.S. Air Force Officer.

“It’s like God did it to you,” he said. “Your trenches, your tanks just blow up, cloudy or not, day or night.”

If the war against terrorism is a new kind of war, then The Post suggests that the military is using new kinds of tactics.

“Rather than the kind of massive, debilitating bombing that was launched against Iraq at the start of the Persian Gulf War, the bombing (in Afghanistan) was more finely calibrated-a tank here, a bunker there. That strategy evidently reflected the lack of ‘high value’ targets. Also, it might have resulted from a fear of civilian casualties.”

The paper noted several examples of the speed and precision of the bombing. In one case, a Northern Alliance commander told a U.S. Special Forces liaison officer of a single Taliban tank that had blocked a line of advance for months. The officer offered to make the tank “disappear,” then made a radio call. A short time later, the tank exploded.

Weapons have advanced since the Persian Gulf War as well. Because of advances in equipment and teamwork with spotters on the ground, B-52 bombers were dropping unguided “dumb” bombs with such accuracy that one official said, “I don’t think we have dumb bombs anymore. We have accurate gravity bombs.”

At times, The Post reported, fully armed B-52s would fly to Afghanistan without assigned targets and simply “loiter” in the air. They would be ready to pounce on what the military calls TSTs, or time sensitive targets-people or vehicles that could get away quickly if spotted.

I have been a critic of Defense Department management and spending practices. The Defense Department is listed six times on a list of programs that government watchdogs at the General Accounting Office say are at “high risk” for waste, fraud and abuse. No major part of the organization can prepare financial statements that comply with generally accepted accounting practices. Spare parts management, decades after disclosures of $700 hammers, still badly needs improvement. Costly infrastructure must be reduced.

That having been said, everyone involved in our fight against terrorism in Afghanistan-on the ground, in the air, at the Pentagon, in the factories that make the weapons-deserves praise for the way operations have proceeded to date. Weapons are working as advertised and tactics are proving effective. The military’s effort in Afghanistan is something in which we can all take pride.

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