• Halt Afghan Bombing

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    In
    the Green Berets with John Wayne, the Duke leads an elite strike
    force far behind enemy lines to seize an enemy general and bring
    him back for interrogation. That was fiction, but in the early days
    of the "war on terrorism" with all the emphasis on Special
    Forces and covert operations, the White House led us to believe
    that something very similar was in the making. Special Forces would
    swoop in, capture Bin Laden and bring him back to the US for trial.
    Justice would be quick, there would be not a single civilian casualty
    and the US military would be the envy of the world.

    Meanwhile
    US diplomacy would help put together a grand coalition of anti-government
    Afghan rebels, led by the deposed King Zahir Shah that would force
    the Taliban to share power and ensure that terrorists could not
    openly operate from Afghan soil.

    That
    was the military and diplomatic "best case" that many
    of us hoped the White House was working to implement in the few
    weeks following September 11.

    Unfortunately,
    it is not turning out like that at all. The US doesn't have a clue
    where Bin Laden is hiding, so the US military has begun and continues
    a bombing campaign which looks to continue until winter sets in.
    As for civilian casualties, we have no idea how many direct casualties
    have resulted from American bombs, but humanitarian groups working
    in Afghanistan say the war has resulted in as many as 2 million
    additional refugees, as Afghans flee the cities. Unless food and
    other aid can be rushed into Afghanistan, it is expected that tens
    of thousands of innocent civilians will die of exposure and malnutrition
    this winter.

    President
    Bush has often pointed out that the Afghan people are not the enemy,
    but it is Afghans civilians who are suffering the brunt of the War
    in Afghanistan, and their deaths will result indirectly from a failed
    US military policy, which seems to be "just keep bombing until
    they cry uncle."

    Unfortunately
    for the United States (and as the Soviets learned the hard way)
    Afghans are some of the toughest opponents on earth and they are
    unlikely to cry uncle from US bombing.

    The
    US right now seems to be following the same strategy is pursued
    against Serbia: bomb, bomb, bomb. In the war against Serbia, too,
    the US refused to commit attack helicopters because they might have
    been vulnerable to ground fire. Instead the US opted to bomb from
    high altitude. So high in fact that pilots often did not know what
    they were really shooting at. American pilots in Serbia on more
    than one occasion attacked civilians thinking they were military.

    During
    the Kosovo war the Pentagon believed it had destroyed hundreds of
    armored vehicles, but after the war it was discovered that the air
    strikes had taken out only a handful. The Serbian tanks were hidden
    and cardboard and plywood targets were set out for the US to bomb,
    and expend millions of dollars of ordinance to destroy a cardboard
    box.

    It's
    beginning to look as though the Afghan policy will be exactly the
    same, do not send in ground forces or even attack helicopters which
    could actually attack battlefield positions, because the US might
    lose a helicopter or some soldiers. Just keep bombing from high
    altitude until they give in.

    Even
    if that strategy worked with Serbia (which is far from clear), it
    certainly won't work with Afghanistan. Serbia was a relatively well
    developed country with factories and well developed infrastructure
    that was vulnerable to attack. In contrast Afghanistan has no factories,
    no bridges, very little of what could be called infrastructure.
    It is pretty much true that the US can't bomb Afghanistan back to
    the stone age because they are already there. So what is this constant
    US bombing really going to accomplish?

    If
    you have attack helicopters and attack aircraft like the low flying
    A-10 it is fairly easy to take out an enemy's armored vehicles when
    they are on the move. It is much harder to take out individual soldiers
    scattered around in bunkers and foxholes. In Kuwait the US bombed
    Iraqi positions for a month, and while most of their armor was destroyed
    there were relatively light casualties among infantry units. They
    simply went into underground bunkers and waited out the attack.

    That
    is not a new phenomenon in war. At the Battle of the Somme in World
    War I, the British brought in millions of artillery shells and kept
    up a constant bombardment of the German lines for weeks. The Brits
    thought there would be nothing left of the Germans but the huge
    barrage resulted in relatively few casualties, because the Germans
    just went underground and waited for the artillery to end and the
    ground attack to begin.

    So
    the US may be able to destroy the Taliban's meager air force and
    armor, but they have almost nothing in that regard anyway. The primary
    strength of the Afghan army is the infantry, and dispersed infantry
    has never been particularly vulnerable to air or artillery. When
    American aircraft come overhead infantry will just go into bunkers
    and come out once the bombing ends. Hence the bombing campaign is
    unlikely to accomplish much of anything in terms of real military
    objectives.

    At
    the beginning of the war Bush was widely praised for saying that
    the US was not going to be using million dollar ordinance to blow
    up a camel (the way the Clinton administration did). Yet as the
    war progresses and fewer and fewer targets are left, the military
    seems to be bombing empty "training camps" and such.

    So
    if bombing is ineffective or even counter-productive (because it
    is costing civilian lives) what can the US do? It can do what it
    did successfully against the Soviets, support the resistance. So
    far, the US seems to have been unsure if it even wanted to directly
    support the Northern Alliance. That is because Pakistan is not friendly
    with them, but the US has got to find a alliance of resistance fighters
    and support them, if it there is any chance of getting rid of the
    Taliban regime. Air strikes are not going to topple them, and even
    if the US had the will to commit a large contingent of ground forces,
    the US military could take the cities, but would be tied down just
    like the Soviets were with Afghan guerrillas controlling the countryside.

    Unless
    the US can pinpoint Bin Laden or his top lieutenants and sweep in
    John Wayne style, the US should avoid any ground troops at all.
    That would only make the situation worse. But a commitment to arming
    the resistance (perhaps backed by close air support) could eventually
    make a difference. It won't be quick. Even after the Soviet withdrawal
    it took the Afghans more than 2 years to finally get rid of the
    Communist regime.

    Finally,
    the US has got to be willing to negotiate with the Taliban. Afghans
    are not known for their willingness to compromise, but the American
    "surrender or else" ultimatums are not conducive to achieving
    anything diplomatically. With enough pressure and a face saving
    way out, the Taliban might be willing to compromise, but they certainly
    will not respond to the type of unconditional surrender ultimatums
    they have been given thus far.

    October
    20, 2001

    Paul
    Clark (send him mail)
    is Director of Coalition for Local Sovereignty (www.localsov.com),
    a veteran of the Gulf War and also worked with the mujahadin in
    Afghanistan.

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