Weapons supplied by CIA pose main threat to allies

War against terrorism: Campaign
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The Independent Online

Air strikes continued against Taliban positions on Wednesday night with Allied aircraft, including USAF bombers from RAF Lakenheath in England, raiding targets in Kabul and Kandahar.

There were also troop concentrations near the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif, north of Kabul. Taliban forces responded with anti-aircraft fire.

About 76 people have been killed and more than 100 injured across the country since the raids started. They are due to end by the weekend and there is expected to be a hiatus before the land campaign begins.

The AH64 Apaches, Super Cobras and Black Hawks to be used in this operation will be carrying US Delta Force and Rangers, and the British SAS and SBS, from bases near Quetta in Pakistan and Uzbekistan. If the political situation in Pakistan deteriorates, they are likely to be based solely in the central Asian republic.

The plan is that the special forces will sweep into fortified hideouts of the al-Qa'ida in the Afghan mountains. Then in a short, sharp raid, they will capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants before flying back to their bases.

The Allied planners hope al-Qa'ida bases will be identified by both human intelligence and from technical espionage. The positions will then be attacked on the ground by the special forces teams and from the air by the attack helicopters. The operations are expected to be long over before any larger Taliban forces can come to the aid of the al-Qa'ida fighters.

However, the Allies will have to cope with the Stingers. They took a deadly toll of Russian helicopters during the ill-fated intervention by Moscow in the 1980s. They were hailed as one of the great successes of US intelligence and covert foreign policy.

The British, too, played a part in this. During the Falklands War, some US officials secretly supplied Britain with Stingers which were used to shoot down Argentine fighter bombers. During the Afghan conflict, the MI6 station in Islamabad helped distribute the missiles to the Afghans. Under the eyes of US special forces' instructors, the Afghans fired nearly 190 of the missiles ­ achieving an astonishing "kill rate" of 75 per cent.

One of the beneficiaries of this tuition was Mr bin Laden, a volunteer for the jihad, and his Islamist fighters. They are believed to have commandeered a batch of Stingers after establishing themselves as an influential force.