April 21st, 2009
03:27 PM ET

Warning signs from Afghanistan

[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."]

Barbara Starr
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.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Barbara Starr • Global 360°
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Tina from Orlando

    Mr. Cooper, I thank you for your courage to report the truths of the ugliness of war. It is a powerful thing to live through, even if you are the lucky one to actually live through it. My brother has served in the Armed Forces since 1980. He is in Special Ops and has been in every war since Grenada. (I believe where there is a life lost, even if it is a police action, is remarkable.) Often times, it is easier for people to have an opinion as to what our Government should do, but dare they remember 9/11? Dare they take the time to think of this one thought...Had Pres Bush NOT done anything, then he would have been chastized for his pasivity. However, we tend to also forget that he has also kept us from evils unaware. I am reminded of this each and every time my brother has to leave his family for the 4th, 5th, 6th time to go to who knows where and for who knows how long. We all have to support our troops, no matter their opperatives. We have to continue praying for this country, for the soldiers and for this world we are now living in. If it doesn't scare you, well...it should.

    PS This last time, my brother might have come home in once piece, but he isn't whole. One must not judge until we have walked the million miles uphill in any soldiers' boots. I guarantee you, you will never complain again.

    God Bless you Anderson.

    April 21, 2009 at 9:45 pm |
  2. Laura - Va

    Didn't we pull troops out of Afghanistan in 2001? In the midst of chasing Bin Laden, who claimed responsibility for 9/11, to invade Iraq? I wonder how the troops who were in Afghanistan in 2001 feel about their mission being recontinued eight years later. I can't speak for our honorable service members, but as a military spouse, angry.

    April 21, 2009 at 8:02 pm |
  3. Patricia Farghaly

    They never should have let Afghanistan get to the point it is now.
    Now They will go there and Iraq will be lost again and all those deaths for naught.
    I don't believe in a useless War and this is what is seems to be.
    I belong to a few Groups that work with the Troops and let me tell you it is not a pretty picture.
    Not for those that die for us and others and not for those that have been thru the Horror of War.
    If they must be there then support and give them what they need to do their jobs.
    I support our Troops and their Families and we must not forget those that come back to a different way of live.
    Thank you Mr Anderson Cooper for sticking up for what you believe in and for getting these stories out to us.
    I follow you on Twitter.

    April 21, 2009 at 6:36 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    We've already been in Afghanistan longer than we have been in Iraq – just not fighting the whole time. What ever happened to Obama's promise to bring our military home from the middle east? Was Afghanistan not considered part of that? Advising and training troops seems to rapidly change to fighting for them. The most effective thing we could do in that country is to help them rebuild their economic infrastructure, get running water into their homes, help the young people find jobs....if the people have a good standard of living they will have less reason to put up with the Islamic terrorists.

    April 21, 2009 at 6:27 pm |
  5. Timothy Gibson

    Anyone who thinks we will come out of Afghanistan in "victory" should rethink the issue.

    Our time and efforts would be best used in providing security for our borders, not in some distant mountain range where we will become just another of the fallen empires of war.

    The radicals are building in strength and numbers while nothing is done to protect the homeland in their jihad.

    April 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm |
  6. ruthdemitroff

    A mission in Afghanistan used to be treated as a joke when the U.S. was in Iraq. Nobody expects an apology but I'm sure this change of tone is appreciated. We've watched our soldiers' coffins carried on and off planes, listened to their grieving parents and given them their due honor. You're absolutely right, Afghanistan grows ever more dangerous for the troops.

    April 21, 2009 at 6:08 pm |
  7. Mari

    The Soviet's failed in Afghanistan. We, Americans, ARMED & TRAINED the Taliban!

    We can not win in Afghanistan. PLEASE BRING OUR TROOPS HOME!

    The ONLY way to win against these terrorists is to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan and the Middle East. War is not the answer!

    @ "Mohamed".......... NO OBAMA DID NOT! Look it up!

    April 21, 2009 at 5:33 pm |
  8. Rose Parvin

    After superpower actions of President Bush changing patterns into President Obama's New Dierction for a New World Order and Dialogue being emphasized over using force power this is a common reaction from those who do not want peace and are used to dictators throwing bomb at them or those who want to claim territory in the old patterns and those who want war to sell weapons.

    That is why Univresal Laws of Human Rights and Regulations must be enfored in the world and the GGlobal Community to come together to agree and have an umberrella of peace and justice and dialogue and regulations accepted to the world and the rest must be dealt with as those who are not willing to have dialogue or be human! Teaching my Universal Culture and out pour of knowledge will be significant!

    April 21, 2009 at 5:01 pm |
  9. Mohamad

    And president Obama cut down department of Defense budget

    April 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm |
  10. Cindy

    O.K., so basically we are being told "forget about this war ever ending" . Well now, isn't that just great. Using our funds to "train" the Afgan forces, are you kidding me? and over 4,000 of them? I'm a Canadian, but that does not mean this does not affect me or my family. It seems like some government officials are hell bound on keeping this war going. Every time they peddle off a positive remark, they come up with another problem, that requires more troops, more money, and well just more of everything! This is beyond pathetic, it is disgraceful. Military is over there working and trying to overcome "lethal" consequences, and we want to shove more down the throats of those already torn by this 8 yr war? And 8 yrs?? This is the longest war in the last 120 yrs that I know of. "We are not sure of all the dangers", "we hope to bring some troops back or have some pull-out", "we are trying too come to a resolution".....give me a break! Hey Mr. Conway..why not send your son/daughter over, and if not then why not your brother/sister, niece/nephew. You won't will you? And I am quite sure many Americans feel the way I do..protecting your country is one thing, exploiting it is another!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    By the way, Mr. Anderson I follow you on twitter, and thank-you for the up-dates!

    April 21, 2009 at 4:14 pm |