In the shadows, U.S. and British special operations forces are gearing up to go in on the ground.
The "bunker buster" bomb
Inside a battle group
Anatomy of a special forces raid
A closer look at Afghanistan
- Kabul (Afghanistan)
- Air Transportation Disasters
See more topics »
Anti-Taliban rebels say that U.S. and British special operations troops linked with them weeks ago, collecting targeting information and other intelligence. "There is a limited presence of special troops with us in Afghanistan," said Daoud Mir, a special envoy in Washington for the anti-Taliban United Front, also called the Northern Alliance.
Pentagon officials say that Navy strike aircraft and Air Force bombers rule the skies in Afghanistan, after using precision weaponry for the past week to damage the Taliban regime's armaments, radar facilities and aircraft.
Appearing on a Pentagon video, those shattered warplanes looked like a child's broken toys on a beige carpet. There has been little Taliban resistance, save for a few rockets and some anti-aircraft artillery that exploded in puffs far below the high-flying U.S. planes.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the air attacks are "stage-setters for follow-on operations."
"Some of these efforts will be visible, but many will not," he told reporters.
"Any time you put feet on the ground, you increase the risk," said retired Gen. Charles C. Krulak, the former commandant of the Marine Corps. "There are so many things that can happen."
One special operations officer who has worked in the region said the ground effort is doable but difficult.
"It's going to take time. It's going to take a long period, months," he said. "What's the whole goal? It's not just Osama Bin Laden but the whole network. They've been at this thing for years. They know the caves. They have comfortable, well-stocked hideouts."
The special forces bring to the fight hand-to-hand combat and weapons skills. Their units operate with a dozen or fewer soldiers, from snipers and medics to experts in communications, weaponry and demolition. They boast that they can adapt to any situation.
"They're trained to shoot and survive and be stealthy and fast," the officer said. "The thing that makes them so different is they plan to the nth degree and they rehearse every single contingency, every single what-if."
Still, there have been times when the special operations forces have let their guard down. "Not having contingency plans is what killed them in Somalia. Two helicopters down and no contingency," said one retired officer who served with a Special Forces Group, referring to the deaths of 18 Army Rangers and elite Delta Force commandos in the disastrous search for Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid in 1993.
It was rocket-propelled grenades that brought down those Blackhawk helicopters in Somalia. In Afghanistan similar grenades and more-feared Stinger shoulder-fired missiles that have a range of 15,000 feet could prove deadly to helicopters, which normally fly below that altitude. "Those things would be something the helicopters would worry about," said the special operations officer.