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BWT: The Afghan Dilemma - Bombs, Butter and Psy-Ops!
By Webster Brooks
1/1/1999 2:33 am Fri
[Afghanistan bukan sebarangan negara yang boleh diusik. Sebab itulah mereka
yang pernah menjajahnya mengalami detik yang amat perit. Rusia yang gergasi
itupun balik sakit-sakit, kini Pakistan sudahpun sengal-sengal dan Amerika pula
sudah pening kepala. Selalunya mereka yang sengal dan pening ini akan rebah
juga akhirnya jika masih berdegil terlalu lama... - Editor]
The Afghan Dilemma - Bombs, Butter and Psy-Ops! The Long War
By Webster Brooks
After 15 days of punishing bombing raids in Afghanistan, America
is courting a public relations and political disaster unless it
dramatically scales back the bombing of Afghanistan in quick
order. Unlike the precision bombing campaign against the
invading Iraqi Republican Guard eight years ago, the incessant
bombing raids have now reached a point of diminishing return.
Pictures of civilian casualties and mangled children from the
western city of Herat, where 13 people were killed on Saturday
have been flashed around the world by Al Jezeera News, and
are undermining Bush's claim of a "just war" on the Arab Street
and in European capitols. In particular, the bombings are igniting
protests in Pakistan, and crippling the Pakistani government's
strategic role in brokering a broad-based post-Taliban regime.
From the outset of "Operation Enduring Freedom," it was said
only a limited number of Taliban and al Qaida military targets
would be engaged in the mountainous and desolate terrain of
Afghanistan. But the bombing of Kabul, Kandahar, Herat,
Jalalabad, Jacobabad and Kunduz, have killed civilians and
exacerbated a growing refugee crisis. Millions of people have
been displaced and children in some areas have started digging
in rat holes to find grain stored in the rat's nests to eat.
With the winter just weeks off, and the holy month of Ramadan
starting in mid-November, a humanitarian crisis of epic
dimensions is unfolding and poses a thorny dilemma for the
United States. A shift in micro-strategy is clearly in order. On the
Sunday talk show circuit, Powell addressed the urgency of the
moment, saying he hoped Kabul would fall to the anti-Taliban
coalition before winter sets in.
According to press reports, the most significant development this
past week was a shift by the U.S. to the long anticipated ground
war. On Friday night (Oct. 20), Special Forces units invaded
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's vacated command
center near Kandahar. In the first U.S. casualties, two troops
supporting the operation were killed in a helicopter crash just
inside the southwestern Pakistani border. In truth, U.S. and British
Special Forces units have been operating in various regions
inside Afghanistan since the week of the September 11 bombings.
More telling than the length of time Special Forces have operated
inside Afghanistan is what they are doing. While conducting
reconnaissance missions and exploring Bin Laden's intricate
network of underground caves and fortifications, their principal
activity has been establishing contact with various warlords
aligned with the Taliban. With offers of cold cash and promises of
a seat at the table of a post-Taliban government, these Psy-Ops
(psychological-operations) are not only designed to isolate bin
Laden and the Taliban, but build a military and political
counterweight to the rogue Northern Alliance, whom the United
States doesn't trust and the Pakistani government will never
accept. After all, it was the Pakistani's who supported the
Taliban's rise to power and subsequent overthrow of the hated
Northern Alliance in 1996. This is precisely the reason the U.S.
has delayed Northern Alliance forces who are only 35 miles from
Kabul, from advancing on the capitol city and proclaiming a new
Thus, it wasn't a slip of the tongue when Secretary of State Colin
Powell stated last week during his visit to Pakistan that moderate
members of the Taliban may be included in a newly constituted
Afghan government. No sooner had Powell left the country than
did the Commander-In-Chief of the Taliban military, Jaladdin
Haqqani show up in Pakistan for secret talks with Pakistani
officials, Afghan opposition group leaders and representatives of
the 86-year old deposed Afghan King Zahir Shah, recently
thawed out of cold storage in France.
The resurrected king, whom the press admits would be a
figurehead leader of a national reconciliation government has one
principal attribute-he, is a Pushtun ethnic. Pushtun's are the
second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and the majority in
Pakistan. If all this seems strangely reminiscent of the old Cold
War cloak-and-dagger days of the CIA installing puppets,
funding mercenaries and bribing armies with food and guns, it is.
As for Jaladdin Haqqani's not-so-secret, secret visit to Pakistan,
it should be said that Taliban leader Mullah Omar just recently
appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the Taliban military. Even
more suspicious is the fact that the five areas under Haqqani's
direct control in Southern Afghanistan have not been touched
during the bombing raids. If all this seems a bit odd, it is in line
with Powell's controversial statement concerning the inclusion of
moderate Taliban elements in a new government. Powell's
remarks were meant to deepen rifts within the Taliban and "peel
off "dissident elements," but they were also a reflection of the
practical realities of the moment.
Despite the United States awesome projection of military power
and the intense bombings in Afghanistan, a ground war still must
be fought. The more warlords the U.S. can buy-off and wavering
Taliban sympathizers that can be persuaded to defect, the fewer
forces the U.S. has to commit to the ground war. The Bush
administration is doing everything it can to limit the number of U.S.
troops coming home in body bags, but time is running out. U.S.
military leaders are coming to grips with the fact that the Northern
Alliance is not only a political liability, but are incompetent on the
battlefield against the Taliban. Thus the bombing goes on as
Taliban land forces are increasingly targeted in air attacks.
The timetable of the ground war in Afghanistan is now being
accelerated, as Special Forces operations move into high gear.
The U.S. is not only racing hard against the winter season and
Ramadan, but their worse fear that the longer the Afghanistan
struggle goes on, the more vulnerable the Musharraf government
will become to losing control of the Pakistani street. The latest
surveys done in Pakistan showed that 80% of the people support
the Taliban in its war against the United States. During Powell's
state visit a crowd of 100,000 protestors took to the streets of
Peshewar, as the Pakistani government continues to place
militant Muslim clerics under arrest without charges. Should a
Muslim uprising come to Pakistan, such a scenario would be the
equivalent of a political earthquake in an already turbulent Middle
Almost two-hundred years ago, in his famous book On War, German military officer Karl von Clausewitz stated that "War is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means." If the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan is proving to be this difficult after one month, can any of us really imagine the political challenges the U.S. faces as it seeks to prosecute the war against international terrorism throughout the Middle East, where anti-U.S. sentiment is rent on the Arab Street and 65% of all Arabs are younger than the age of sixteen. In this, the Long War, the U.S. strategy of Bombs, Butter and Psy-Ops in Afghanistan is a vivid reminder of von Clausewitz's brilliant insight, and a harbinger of things to come.