US shows video of man being blown apart

War on Terrorism: Pentagon
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The Independent US

The General called it a "rather unique" view of the bombing – the video clip he played showed a man being blown into a thousand pieces by a US satellite-guided missile.

"You'll see two vehicles, one pull up next to another," said Marine Corps General Peter Pace in his commentary on the clip. "You'll see an individual walk between the two vehicles just before a guided munition destroys both vehicles."

The general – the vice-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff – did not know the precise location of the strike or type of missile used. He could not even tell exactly what the two vehicles were – they might have been armoured carriers or fuel tankers – from the fuzzy images taken by the plane's gun camera. Still, it was a rather unique view all the same.

No one expected the Anglo-American military campaign launched inside Afghanistan to be a pretty thing. No one doubted there would be innocent civilian victims – the so-called "collateral damage". But this week, five weeks into the war, the Pentagon revealed the result of its handiwork with footage that was as gruesome as it was mesmerising.

As more questions are asked about the wisdom and efficacy of a military campaign that is almost entirely aerial bombing, the Pentagon is desperate to persuade people that the Taliban is being hit hard. Though they cannot release precise figures, the Pentagon claims that scores of Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters have been killed by the airstrikes. The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that he saw reports detailing Taliban losses twice a day; sometimes were six victims, sometimes 20.

General Pace was asked if he could be more precise on the numbers of Taliban dead. He replied: "I can't give you an estimate, but I can give you a flavour for the type of war ... You have [heard] about cavalry charges – and this is opposition forces -- riding horseback into combat against tanks and armoured personnel carriers. So these folks are aggressive. They're taking the war to their enemy and ours. We are supporting them as best we can."

Yesterday, General Tommy Franks, the man leading the war, was asked a similar question as he briefed reporters. Referring at one point to Sun Tzu, the Chinese commander who 2,400 years ago wrote the military treatise The Art of War, General Franks said only that "the Taliban now has less fighters than it had when it started".

There is a serious side to the spin and near-fantasy that sometimes emerges from the Pentagon. Washington is acutely aware that the support for air strikes among its international allies is slowly but steadily slipping. It knows that every time a missile goes astray – as one apparently did on Wednesday night in north-west Kabul, hitting a residential area and killing a newly-wed couple and scattering their belongings – more questions are asked.

It also realises that despite the bombing effort, most of the Taliban's 50,000 or so fighters remain in the field, still countering efforts by the Northern Alliance to advance on key cities such as Mazar-i-Sharif, which was captured by the Taliban in 1998.

The key question facing military planners is how long the campaign can consist only of airstrikes and the use of the less-than-reliable Northern Alliance as a proxy. No amount of Pentagon briefings can obscure the fact that American and British soldiers are likely to have to go in soon to fight the Taliban on the ground. No doubt that will provide us all with another "unique view".