NATO deep-strike exercise previews type of attacks that might be used on bin Laden

Thursday, October 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DRAWSKO POMORSKIE TRAINING AREA, Poland (AP) _ In the lush landscape of northern Poland, NATO troops are practicing how to strike deep behind enemy lines _ honing just the sort of tactics military analysts say could be employed in the U.S. fight against international terrorism.

Some 4,000 American and Polish troops have deployed for Victory Strike II, an exercise pitting Apache attack helicopters against American and Soviet-era anti-aircraft weaponry. Some of those, including the Stinger missile, can be found in the Taliban's arsenal in Afghanistan.

``That's part of this contemporary environment,'' said Maj. Gen. Robert Dees, deputy commander of the U.S. Army's V Corps, based in Heidelberg, Germany. ``Nations all around the world are buying hardware from a mix of different people, and you never know really what you're going to face.''

The 11th Aviation Regiment launched one of its largest simulated Apache attacks Wednesday, aimed at knocking out simulated enemy radar and missile sites nestled among a mock child-care center, hospital and museum.

``This is the battlefield of the future,'' Dees said. ``We're training against these discrete packets that are intermingled in cities with hospitals and schools, where collateral damage is an issue.''

Hugging the changing foliage of the treetops along the rolling Polish countryside, the 20 flat-black Apaches swept toward their target 85 miles away.

As the pilots wove and bobbed to avoid imaginary enemy radar and anti-aircraft fire, intrigued farmers stopped their work to gaze up in the sky and frightened animals darted back and forth as the formation passed overhead.

The three-week exercise that ends Oct. 13 comes as the United States ratchets up plans for military retaliation to the Sept. 11 attacks. NATO approved a U.S. request for specific military contributions in the campaign against terrorism on Thursday, backing up earlier promises with military hardware and intelligence.

Analysts said the Apache in particular could prove useful in any assault on terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan, whose Taliban rulers are sheltering the prime suspect in the attacks, Osama bin laden.

``They carry devastating firepower with their cannons and rockets and being long range, they can go considerably in advance of the forward lines of troops and root out any potential problems,'' said Nick Cook, an aviation consultant for Jane's Defense Weekly.

In the simulated attack, the Apache pilots were guided with information from special forces on the ground and were bolstered by four F-16 jets based in Italy.

It is the second such exercise to be held with Polish units since the former Warsaw Pact country joined NATO in 1999, and was planned before the terrorist attacks on the United States. While Afghanistan is not in the normal zone of operations for V Corps, the corps could easily be called upon for help outside its area, as it was during the Gulf War.

``We're ready to do what our nation asks us to do,'' Dees said.

Victory Strike II also is testing a mobile corps command post _ a streamlined center deployed by Air Force transport, as it would be in a war. Soldiers at the post coordinate and monitor the Apache deep-strike missions while being subjected to other ``stress'' situations, as they would be during an actual conflict.

By contrast, Cold War-era command centers were unwieldy operations the size of a small city that were unable to deploy quickly. Both command structures and tactical operations are changing to reflect the new reality of fighting small forces in remote areas, like bin Laden's network in Afghanistan.

``The mission is now ... insertion into a trouble spot with the follow-up to go anywhere,'' said retired British Maj. Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies. ``It needs a totally different mindset in terms of command and control and you may have to be ready for anything following insertion.''