Air strikes, of course, are a limited weapon against freelance -- as opposed to state-sponsored -- terrorism. "If this was a state you could attack its targets and explain why," says Thompson. "But terrorist groups of this type are a much tougher call militarily -- sending in ground forces to finish off the enemy carries too many risks and only a limited prospect of success. Sometimes the best you can do is simply to set them back by attacking their facilities."
They don't do as much damage as well-armed aircraft, but Cruise missiles are a risk-free means of carrying out an air strike. "By using Cruise missiles targeted by GPS satellites, you eliminate any danger to U.S. pilots," explains TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "Such strikes tend to be labeled as pinpricks, but for terrorist bases in Afghanistan they could be pretty big pinpricks. Plainly there's no appetite for sending in U.S. ground forces -- this way you get the bounce of slapping down a dangerous foe without risking more U.S. lives."