[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/20/afghanistan.status/art.afghanistan.gi.jpg caption="A machine gun points out from a U.S. Marine helicopter flying over southwest Afghanistan."]
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
Two little-noticed but telling press releases today from U.S. Forces in Afghanistan offer clues that bad times may be ahead in Afghanistan. Essentially the coalition said that over just 12 hours it had located and destroyed two ZPU-1 anti-aircraft guns in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. These are Soviet era weapons, long considered obsolete in the West.
So what's to worry? Plenty.
Operated by a four-man crew they shoot down helicopters. And for the Marines in southern Afghanistan, that’s bad news.
Senior US commanders are concerned…wondering if this capability could be a ‘game changer” in the hands of insurgents. It was just a few days ago while in Helmand with CNN that General James Conway talked about the latest intelligence indicating insurgents had heavy anti-aircraft weapons:
“We are hearing intelligence reports to that degree. We have not actually been fired on. Nor have we identified them on the ground with our surveillance and reconnaissance but there rumors there are intercepts there are indications that there could be something like that in the weeks and months to come.”
There have been unsuccessful attempts to shoot down helicopters in the south with surface-to-air fire, but the latest intelligence points to heavier caliber weapons that could have a greater chance of success. And these two press releases show what Conway was worried about a few days ago, is already here.
All this comes as the security situation in the south continues to deteriorate in some spots. US Army Brigadier General John Nicholson, the top US commander in the south, told us on this same trip that the Taliban now control some places. “There are some areas because we haven't had to date sufficient forces on the ground.”
Fixing that problem is the initial step of the Obama Administration’s strategy in sending 21,000 additional troops into the war zone.
Security isn't the only priority, but it is the first priority. About 4,000 troops will train Afghan security forces. The US plan focuses heavily on getting Afghan security forces to improve their capability. As they stand up, the US forces can stand down…or so the thinking goes. Sounds like Iraq, doesn't it?
Will that strategy work here, in a country with hundreds of tribal factions and safe havens across the border in Pakiistan? Everyone hopes so, but for now perhaps the most interesting question General Conway got from a young marine standing duty in Helmand was, “Sir, do you think we will be fighting here longer than we fought in Iraq?” Conway acknowledged that for now at least, he just doesn’t know.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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