War in Afghanistan
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more

Why the ground war must start within days

Winter is almost upon Afghanistan - so action must be sooner rather than later. I believe the US and Britain cannot wait longer than five to eight days before committing ground troops.

Ground forces would be committed for a very limited spell, most likely to secure an air base for humanitarian and helicopter operations. I don't see, other than special forces, lots of US and British paratroopers clambering round in the middle of winter.

The objectives would be very limited: special forces would be used to conduct operations against potential terrorists and to maintain surveillance.

This is very difficult terrain and I can't see prolonged operations as we saw with the Soviets during their Afghanistan war.

The Afghans are very capable and adapted to the use of small arms. My one certainty is that once the allies have destroyed their tanks and artillery, the Taleban will take to the mountains.

They are extremely accurate with bazookas and rifles and that is where the Soviets came unstuck. That's the culture of these people and their history.

The special forces offer a wide range of capabilities, from conducting offensive operations to training Northern Alliance forces, or other indigenous groups who may rise up as a result of what is happening.

Special forces are no good for holding ground or long-range strategic operations - but they are excellent at covert work.

The British special forces will be commanded and controlled by British sources but there will be a significant degree of co-ordination between the US and the British.

In the Gulf War, British forces were totally integrated but the British retained the right to decide whether to pull out right until the final decision to commit. Only then were they switched to Gulf War commander General Norman Schwarzkopf's command.

I believe information technology will play a key role for any ground forces. Even 10 years ago in the desert, I did a lot of work with a laptop. These troops will have the full range of navigational aids and computers capable of data transfer with burst transmissions at very high speeds, which gives them the ability to download the latest information.

Because a lot of what they do is at close quarters, special forces need a wide range of weapons.

The terrain they will face is very difficult. It is devoid of cover, with no water. It is also very high, resulting in a lack of oxygen which degrades physical performance. Because it is very rocky, it is difficult to dig in and there are hundreds of caves for opponents to hide in.

In terms of air operations, the altitude also reduces performance. Runways have to be longer and loads have to be reduced.

If the US is to seize an air base they could remain all winter. But if they engage in mobile operations, it will be quite limited.

The issue of winter is, of course, not one-sided. The Taleban and Osama bin Laden will also be affected. Historically, both sides in Afghanistan have taken to winter quarters, and movement becomes difficult.