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Experts Consider US Military Options in Afghanistan - 2001-09-30

As the United States prepares for possible military action in Afghanistan, current and former U.S. military leaders are urging Americans to brace themselves for a lengthy and unconventional campaign against terrorism.

Several recent opinion polls indicate overwhelming public support for a U.S. military response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Those polls also indicate that the public is willing to give the Bush administration plenty of time to move forces into position in advance of possible military action.

General Hugh Shelton is the outgoing Chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff. He spoke on ABC television and said, "I think that the American people understand right now that we are going after the terrorists and that this will require a sustained campaign.

Members of Congress from both parties have also rallied around President Bush's call for a lengthy campaign against terrorism.

Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told CNN that the president's decision to resist a quick military response has actually boosted public confidence in Mr. Bush's leadership abilities. "I think the president is stronger and in control by resisting pressure to do an immediate quick action that wouldn't do much to wipe out terrorism and make us feel good for a few days and then we are back to the same old problems," he said.

Current and former U.S. military officials are busy conducting a public relations campaign of their own, cautioning the public that the campaign against terrorism will be both lengthy and unconventional.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described some of the challenges of a military campaign in Afghanistan on NBC television. "It means," he said, "that if the problem is to root out those terrorist networks and if you are dealing with a country that does not have high value targets, that doesn't have armies, navies and air forces, its capital has been pummeled by the Soviet Union to the point that it is rubble and by internal fighting by everybody there, there is not much that they hold dear. They live in caves, they live in tents, they move constantly. And what we have to do is to deal with that kind of an enemy in a way that is appropriate." That in turn means the U.S. military will have to be far more flexible than it has been in the past.

Retired U.S. General George Joulwan was interviewed on Fox television. He said, "The president said it best. He told the military to be ready and he said no options are off the table. I can assure you that the military is trying to prepare the broadest set of options that they can execute if need be."

An essential ingredient in any military campaign in Afghanistan is intelligence. U.S. officials will neither confirm nor deny reports that small teams of U.S. commandos are already operating in Afghanistan gathering information.

Retired General and former NATO Commander Wesley Clark told CNN that finding suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his followers in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan will take time. General Clark said, "It is clear that we are going to have put our own eyes into Afghanistan to be there 24 hours a day. We have got to be able to look at targets and look at where the enemy might be, check movement patterns, get to know local terrain and other indicators that might give us an edge in finding him [Osama bin Laden]."

The New York Times reported Sunday that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been trying to get the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance to go after Osama bin Laden for the past three years. The Times report says the effort to enlist the help of the Northern Alliance was part of a broader long-term campaign to destroy the terrorist network that Osama bin Laden allegedly controls in Afghanistan.