Commander-in-Chief George Bush has done an excellent job thus far in America's complex war on terrorism. Some influential idiots wanted to use the 9-11 tragedy as excuse to attack other nations unfriendly to the USA, and many nuts demanded immediate revenge, like "send in the paratroopers". Fortunately, wiser men prevailed, mainly because the USA had no bases or allies near land-locked Afghanistan, so diplomacy was required. This has secured full basing rights in Uzbekistan, and some "support" bases in Pakistan. Although they are already military airfields, it will take months to ready them for large numbers of American troops. Sources of food, fuel and clean water must be secured, as well as housing and showers, while ammo dumps and spare parts stocks must be established.
The United States needs these bases fully functioning before it can begin serious ground operations because American forces need FIREPOWER, which comes in four basic forms: tanks, artillery, attack helicopters, and attack aircraft. Tanks and artillery are ill-suited for hunting terrorists in mountains, and difficult to support logistically from the air. Attack helicopters are ideal, but they need nearby bases since they haven't the range to operate from ships in the Arabian sea. Attack aircraft can operate from distant aircraft carriers, but cannot provide effective support at that range. When a ground unit needs close air support, it needs it within minutes. Ground troops cannot wait over an hour for aircraft to fly off carriers to provide ground support. The extreme range only allows aircraft to circle "on station" for a few minutes before turning home because of low fuel.
As a result, the US military has focused on what it does best, strategic bombing. Some people hoped the Taliban would become so frightened by airpower that they would throw down their weapons and pray for mercy. However, the mighty US Air Force was unable to bomb Afghanistan "back into the Stone Age" because it never emerged from it. Unlike the Iraqis, the Taliban can't run home, they are home. While a couple of weeks of bombing was necessary, trying to kill the Taliban with bombing is like trying to kill mice with a sledgehammer.
The bombing offensive has now become counter-productive. Few Afghans know about the 9-11 attacks, but they do know that anyone who bombs their country is not their friend. Even worse, the bombing is causing unrest in Pakistan and thousands of volunteers are flowing across the border to join the Taliban. A key ally is Pakistan dictator General Pervez Musharraf, who lacks strong internal support since he overthrew Pakistan's elected government just two years ago. As a result, he has provided lukewarm support by allowing American aircraft to use Pakistani airspace and some airfields for non-combat support operations. Musharraf has demanded that the bombing stop for the holy month of Ramadan, which begins November 17th. If Musharraf decides to withdraw support or is overthrown, the bombing campaign ends, or expands to Pakistan. However, this has not deterred arrogant grandstanders like Senator John McCain from demanding increased bombing and ignoring Ramadan.
Some thought that American air support would encourage groups of Taliban rivals to launch an "offensive" and drive the Taliban from power. This did not occur because most Afghan fighters are simple farmers and refugees who have survived years of warfare by avoiding heavy fighting. They are mostly local militia who skirmish with rival clans or fight as mercenaries for food. They have limited medical care, no retirement plan, no life insurance for their family, and have no use for medals. As a result, they are cautious, and will not assault prepared enemy positions no matter how much training and equipment they get. Why should they?
Afghans will put up a strong defensive fight, and fight to the death to defend their home areas. They are happy to fire off artillery and conduct ambushes and raids, but they have no incentive to conduct frontal military assaults. For them, a major offensive is to pound an enemy position with heavy firepower while others sneak up and surprise the few defenders. After that success, everyone takes a few days off for celebration and rest. This is why fighting has continued for decades, and why a small group of fanatical Arabs became key players in the Taliban's conquest of most of the country. As a result, American advisors face difficult barriers in attempting to get these Afghans to search for and destroy Taliban forces. Don't expect them fight during in the winter either, most will go hibernate at home as they do every year.
Therefore, regular American ground troops will be needed to fight key battles in support of friendly Afghan militia groups. Special Operations forces like Army Rangers are for special operations, they are not equipped or organized for heavy sustained combat. The best unit for this role is the 101st Air Assault (e.g. helicopter) Division. One or two brigades can be based in Uzbekistan to send attack helicopters and heliborne assault troops into Afghanistan, backed by a squadron of A-10 close attack aircraft. There is no need to send an overwhelming force of several divisions, or to construct American bases in Afghanistan. This would alarm the Muslim world, cost a hundred billion dollars, and couldn't be supported from a limited air logistics pipeline anyway.
This will be a lengthy counter-insurgency campaign which will gradually destroy the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan. However, operations cannot begin until Winter ends. Putting thousands of soldiers into this area in the Winter will only make them miserable and impotent. Osama bin Laden knew the US military would come after him in Afghanistan after his terror attacks. It's likely he committed these acts in September hoping that an impatient US military would attempt a foolish expedition into Afghanistan during the brutal Winter.
Forget about taking Kabul before Winter. An attack could turn into a Stalingrad-like stalemate in which a million civilians die, broadcast live by CNN. Even if the Taliban peacefully withdraw from Kabul, they will still control most of Afghanistan and the "allies" would become responsible for feeding and policing the city, which includes keeping the United Front gangsters from looting and fighting with each other in Kabul. They may also become comfortable in Kabul and lose interest in fighting the Taliban elsewhere in the Spring.
President Bush has correctly stated that crushing the al Qaeda is a long-term goal. Therefore, as of November 1, 2001, I advise him to:
1) Accept the fact that Winter has arrived and offensive military operations are impossible. Declare an end to the bombing offensive soon to allow UN food shipments on the ground, and continue humanitarian air drops to save the lives of innocent Afghans. This will relieve tensions in many Muslim countries, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. The USA needs a pause anyway because it has depleted its bomb stocks and needs a break to allow American industry to gear up for wartime production. If some hard evidence emerges about the location of senior Taliban leaders during the Winter, "secret" bombs may be dropped. Taliban fighters already have food stashed for the harsh Winter and will be difficult to find. When they must forage for food in the Spring, they will be much easier to destroy.
2) Enforce a "no-fly zone" over Afghanistan and help neighboring countries improve border security to quarantine the terrorists and keep Taliban volunteers out.
3) Special Forces troops cannot search during the Winter, but they may be able to secure some key mountaintop passes to control movement and communication routes. Subject Afghanistan to heavy communications jamming and monitoring.
4) Stop feeding the media frenzy with daily Pentagon shows and frequent Rumsfeld/Myers news conferences to talk about nothing, which makes it seem like they are doing nothing. Go back to twice weekly Pentagon briefings and stop agitating the Muslim world by showing bombing footage.
5) Continue the logistical build-up and base improvements in neighboring countries to prepare for a Spring offensive. Don't bring in more combat troops to sit around all Winter. Send most ships and GIs home for Christmas and bring them back in March for a long ground campaign.
6) The Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and must have a military unit to ensure a share power. Work with Pakistan to recruit and train thousands of Pashtun refugees to form a Pashtun brigade to join the United Front. Buy 100 Soviet tanks and train them to use them.
7) Cut military aid to Egypt from $1300 million a year to $300 million. There is little justification to give the Egyptian dictatorship any military aid, this is just a left over racket from the 1973 Peace Accords which benefits a few powerful American defense companies. This will lessen the American presence in Egypt and distance the USA from the repressive Egyptian regime which spawned the al Qaeda terrorist movement.
8) Cut military/economic aid to Israel from $3 billion a year to $2 billion. The military threat to Israel has declined sharply over the last decade, and this matches the aid cut to Egypt. This will also send Israel a message that the continued expansion of Israeli encampments on the Arab West Bank must halt or more cuts may follow.
9) Stop no-fly zone operations over Iraq and the weekly bombings, which has strained the US Air Force for a decade. This should have been done years ago, and will increase support in the Arab world. Eliminate economic (not military) sanctions against Iraq if weapons inspectors are allowed to return, something Iraq has already proposed. Iraq is one of the Arab world's most socially progressive states and does not support al Qaeda, which calls for an Islamic revolution to overthrow Arab dictators. You never see Saddam Hussein in traditional Arab garments shouting about a Holy War. There is no Iraqi participation in al Qaeda as Hussein already battles Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq. Iraq's primary objective is to export as much oil as they can, which is "supposedly" what the USA wants from the region.
10) Announce that after a regional review of military bases, the United States has decided to close one of its six airbases in the Persian Gulf region, Prince Sultan in Saudi Arabia, due to its remote location. However, the real reason is that it is close to the Muslim World's two most holy sites and has become an embarrassment to the Saudi government and a rallying point for the al Qaeda movement.
For many Americans, the last four recommendations seem out of place in the Afghan war. However, the problem with al Qaeda is a symptom of rising Arab nationalism in the Middle East. If the United States wants to win, it must deal with the disease itself. The last four steps all address reasonable grievances by millions of Muslims, and would seriously undercut the al Qaeda movement. The powerful US military struggled to defeat the Vietcong in South Vietnam because American leaders preferred to focus on the military aspect and ignored the social and economic grievances which fed the Viet Cong movement. While these four steps may be considered "concessions", they would save the USA billions of dollars each year and destroy the al Qaeda movement as many tired Arab fighters and sleeper agents declare victory and go home.
This Afghan war is just a sideshow, al Qaeda's real goal is toppling all the pro-western dictators in the Middle East in a popular uprising like the one in Iran in the 1970s. Chaos in the Middle East would not only prove harmful to "Western interests" but fatal to Israel as the USA has sold wealthy Arab states hundreds of billions of dollars in advance weaponry. The al Qaeda are not just a few hundred terrorists hiding in Afghan caves, but a growing Arab nationalist movement supported by millions of Muslims around the world. Continued military actions cannot crush this movement unless political steps are made to undermine their base of support. If this is news to you, be sure to see the PBS Frontline documentary Hunting bin Laden.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com