Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Future of the War on Terror, is the War on Islam

George Will's column calling on the US to withdraw forces from Afghanistan and rely on smart strikes using drones, cruise missiles and special forces insertions, reopens a now old debate about the tactics we should be using in the War on Terror.

Will's approach would revert the US back to before the days of the Bush Administration when smart strikes were used for a series of attacks that accomplished absolutely nothing.

It might be possible to use "offshore" bombing to end the Taliban, but it would not involve smart and limited attacks, but dumb and massive ones that would kill a sizable portion of Afghanistan's non-urban tribal population. That is something not even the Soviet Union was fully prepared to commit to. It is not likely that any US administration would.

While drone strikes can be quite useful within the context of a larger military operation, without that context they're nothing more than a game of "Whack a Mole", while the mole works to execute a large terrorist operation against you.

You might take out a few terrorists, if you're lucky and manage to get good intel out of enemy territory, but sooner or later the terrorists will execute a 9/11 or a 7/7 on your own soil. The terrorists lose 3 or 4 people, you lose hundreds or thousands of people.

Drones and precision strikes have not fundamentally altered the nature of war. They allow the US to extend its reach, but that godlike illusion cannot actually accomplish anything useful without being able to know the location of your targets.

And having eyes in the sky is nowhere near as good as having boots on the ground. Having flying sniper rifles in the sky will not end or even seriously damage the terrorist threat. The Clinton Administration, which was roughly three times as energized about fighting terrorism as the current administration is, demonstrated that.

Smart strikes are a military variation on smart power. What they have in common is the smug illusion that people sitting in D.C. office buildings can control events thousands of miles away without putting anyone or anything at risk. And neither of them substitute for the blunt ugly reality of an occupation force on the ground.

The key advantage of occupation is that it actually puts troops into a position to counter the enemy and bar him from the country's centers of power. The current US tactics may make it unlikely that we will destroy the Taliban, but in turn it makes it impossible for the Taliban and their allies to seize power or operate freely in strategic parts of Afghanistan.

By invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the US successfully put its enemies on the defensive, consuming resources that they would have otherwise used for offensive operations. That is the fundamental difference between the US occupation and the Soviet one. The Soviets were motivated by expansionism, the US seeks to keep its enemies on the defensive and at bay.

But that is a modest goal and one we have paid a dear price for. Will isn't entirely wrong about the trajectory of the war. He simply has no useful solution to the problem.

The US strategy has replicated too much of the Soviet strategy in Afghanistan, but has avoided alienating Afghan tribes and warlords to the extent that the USSR did, and the Taliban are not receiving the kind of counterinsurgency aid that the Mujaheddin received from the US and various other countries.
Source: Sultan Knish
H/T Gramfan

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