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US sees boon in Afghan winter

Military plans to keep fighting, saying high-tech tools will give US troops edge in harsh climate.

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The US intends to fight through Afghanistan's harsh winter and turn the bitter cold into a tactical weapon for American and opposition forces as they battle the Taliban and hunt for terrorists.

US military commanders admit that Afghanistan's brutal climate poses major challenges, with freezing rain already to blame for one US helicopter crash there.

"In any combat operation or any conflict, weather's probably your No. 1 concern," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week. "It's no different in Afghanistan."

But the Pentagon is confident that its overall military superiority - along with key high-tech advantages in winter fighting - will allow the US-backed opposition to maintain an edge over the Taliban.

"Your US forces operate extremely well in cold-weather environments," Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs vice chairman, said in a Pentagon briefing on Monday, noting that winter cold can be "advantageous to the kinds of sensors that we use."

Indeed, US thermal imaging, using infrared sensors, works especially well in winter - making warmer objects such as tanks, troops, and buildings stand out sharply against the surrounding cold. Such sensors, mounted on US helicopters, tanks, and even individual rifle sights, produce pictures as detailed as those on television screens for targeting in day or night.

"Our ability to use infrared for close-combat operations is our ace in the hole," says an official at the US Army's night-vision directorate. The sensors, first used extensively during the 1991 Gulf War, could also help locate terrorists believed to be hiding among Afghanistan's vast web of caves and tunnels. But to identify terrorists and the Taliban "you have to get close," the night-vision official says.

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