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Comments On The War Against Terrorism

An Essay by Dale Brown, 10/9/01

The war on terrorism is said today to be entering a new phase as American and British forces claim air superiority--freedom to roam the skies over Afghanistan--and announce plans to move helicopter-borne special operations forces into Afghanistan to hunt down terrorists.

A few notes:

1) Although we claim "air superiority," the skies over Afghanistan will not be safe. The Taliban armed forces have an estimated 100 Stinger missile systems, provided by the U.S. during Afghanistan's war against the USSR, which may be deadly to helicopters. Although the Stingers are old and presumably not in optimum condition, they should still be considered a threat. The U.S. provided a total of about $480 million to the Mujahadeen anti-Russian "freedom fighters" in the 1980s, and most of the weapons supplied by the U.S. and other countries were dispersed throughout the country in the coups that followed the withdrawal of USSR troops.

The Mujahadeen "freedom fighters" also obtained a number of other man-portable anti-aircraft missiles, such as the "Blowpipe" from the U.K., the SA-7 "Grail" from Russia, the Sakr Eye SAM system from Egypt, and the Hongying-5 SAM from China. It should also be assumed that wealthy terrorists like Osama bin Laden can buy any man-portable SAM offered for sale anywhere around the world. Afghanistan also has a number of mobile anti-aircraft artillery systems, including radar and optically guided guns, which were not likely taken out in air raids. These systems are also deadly to low-flying, relatively slow-moving aircraft like helicopters and turboprop transports like the C-130.

Bottom line: the skies over Afghanistan should be safe enough to fly high-flying B-52s during daylight hours, but not safe enough for all aircraft. The danger is still great.

2) There should not be a "ground war" like in Desert Storm. If successful, the American public should never know what our special operations forces do in Afghanistan. The only indication of success we should receive is a lack of bombastic rhetoric from al-Qaida spokesmen--because they'd be dead.

3) The threat of terrorist action against Americans or U.S. interests in other countries--the southern Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as well as Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt--should be taken seriously. The likelihood of some other large-scale terrorist action in the U.S. is still great, but it is more likely to happen overseas, simply because of the ease of identifying Westerners in these regions and the number of supporters and sympathizers there.

4) Although we definitely consider Saddam Hussein a threat to the U.S. and its interests, we should tone down the rhetoric about putting out a "contract" on him. Americans want to see clear evidence that Saddam is involved in direct action against the U.S. before we shift our military forces to Iraq.

[IMAGE] Yes, the war on terrorism is different that other conflicts--but Americans haven't changed. We need to feel as if our armed forces aren't being sent into harm's way without real reason or provocation; we don't want to look like a bully. Americans got behind military action in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo after seeing images of atrocities, mass graves, refugees, and guerrilla actions (whether they were real or manufactured events is another question). But do most Americans realize we still have troops in the Balkans? Do most Americans know, or care, why they are there?

The destroyed World Trade Center and several thousand deaths on U.S. soil is powerful provocation--but not for unlimited direct military action. Give us the proof, and America will respond.

Example: We have sent several thousand troops to the periphery of Afghanistan, ostensibly for ground operations against the terrorists. I think most Americans support that. But do you support such a deployment if you learned that those troops are there to protect Uzbekistan or Tajikistan instead? Now I want to know details: how long will they be there, what's the threat, what weapons can they use, what are their orders?

5) Take all the damage assessments and claims of who and what were hit with a BIG grain of salt. Bomb damage assessments from the sky (by satellite or aircraft) is not an exact science. Most of the so-called assessments turn out to be propaganda and wishful thinking. For example, in most post-strike debriefings, a "successful" strike is one where the target/aimpoint is identified, the equipment is operating properly, and there was a successful weapon release within the proper flight parameters. True bomb damage assessment might never be known. Also, some targets that are hit can sometimes be quickly rebuilt or replaced.

This is especially true for reports of attacks against the "terrorist training camps." By their very nature, "camps" can be variously occupied, unoccupied, active, inactive, vital, or abandoned.

Let's not get into the habit of "camp counts," like we were obsessed with "body counts" in Vietnam. They are often meaningless. Obviously if a surface-to-air missile site is shown to be destroyed in after-action photos, chances are it's really been destroyed. But all sorts of targets can be faked, moved, covered up, or replaced.

6) According to the Washington Post, Navy strike pilots have been ordered to "visually verify" their targets before dropping weapons (I assume this means through their targeting system, not out the cockpit window). News flash: pilots must ALWAYS identify their targets before dropping. The days are gone of simply "carpet bombing" targets unless we're trying to destroy a minefield or attacking a large convoy of vehicles or troops. Precision-guided weapon delivery means just that: put the crosshairs on your assigned target first.

It's not out of a concern for civilian casualties--that's a propaganda line. No attacker wants to waste a bomb on the wrong target. If the target is a power plant, radio-TV building, political headquarters on a certain street, or the middle of a runway, the crew is authorized to ONLY hit that target, or move on to a secondary or tertiary assigned target, or withhold for "buddy" attacks (a target is identified by one plane but attacked by another), or the weapon is brought back to base. The target might be obscured by smoke or clouds; there might be an equipment malfunction; it might already be destroyed; or another target might be assigned. Crews are usually not authorized to simply "dump" weapons over enemy territory unless there is a crew safety issue (weapon damage, serious malfunction, or danger to the recovery base/ship with a live or hung weapon).

In Desert Storm, some crews were allowed to hit targets of opportunity (so-called "tank plinking") with TV or imaging-infrared-guided weapons. But such missions are relatively rare (the exceptions are "Wild Weasel" missions, where specially-equipped planes hunt surface-to-air missile sites by cruising around waiting to be attacked).

Twenty years ago, a high-altitude bomb drop within 2,000 feet of the target was considered qualified, and within 1,000 feet was good. With JDAM satellite-guided bombs, that score has dropped to less than fifty feet. With laser-guided bombs, that number most often is ZERO feet.

This does not mean that civilian casualties will not happen--but in war, civilians very often get killed. If civilian casualties start to weaken our resolve to win, perhaps we shouldn't be fighting the war to begin with. But remember: this time, WE have several thousand civilian casualties in this war. I'm not preaching revenge for revenge sake, but let's keep this conflict in the proper perspective.

7) Some commentators are concerned that the U.S. is bent on wiping out the Taliban without giving much thought to who should replace them as the rulers of Afghanistan. Another news flash: the Taliban WAS NEVER the legitimate government of Afghanistan. The last elections ever held in Afghanistan were not popular elections, but elections by political leaders, back in 1989. The political landscape of Afghanistan over the past 100 years has been dominated by foreign meddling, assassinations, and coups. Even the former monarch of Afghanistan was eliminated by his own family.

Bottom line: let's go into Afghanistan, wipe out al-Qaida, get bin Laden if we can, and eliminate the Taliban's ability to support terrorist organizations--then GET OUT. Let's not be concerned with what government will rule. We're not in the business of nation-building; every attempt we've made to do so (Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia) has been a complete failure; and Afghanistan is certainly not the place to give it another try. Afghanistan has been and is now a mostly tribal, factional, even nomadic nation, ruled by guns and drug money. All the U.S. should be concerned about is eliminating the threat. What emerges later will not be up to us, and will probably change soon afterwards anyway.

8) I hope General Barry McCaffrey's suggestion on how we should fight this war -- "We are going to disrupt these people thru pre-emptive attack ... We will deceive them, we will run psyops on them ... At selected points and times they will be killed suddenly, in significant numbers, and without warning ... remote control booby traps, blackmail ... blow down the doors and kill them at close range with automatic weapons and hand grenades ... If we can find out how they eat, or play, or receive rewards, or where they sleep ... we will go there and kill them by surprise ... " (10/10/01 Wall Street Journal) resonates within all Americans and folks all over the world. This is the face of the new war we are fighting--down and dirty, unconventional, fast, and deadly.

Unfortunately, some will call it brutal, unfair, murderous, and un-American. Some will say we can't do it this way because we'll be depriving the enemy of their civil rights--unreasonable search and seizure, no trial by jury, no freedom of expression, no innocence until proven guilty. If we stoop to this level, they'll say, we're no better than the terrorists themselves--in fact, we BECOME terrorists.

Wake up and smell the wreckage of the WTC and the Pentagon--the U.S. is angry, and we're out for blood. The Constitution exists to protect American citizens. Yes, the Constitution outlines certain unalienable rights that should be enjoyed by all human beings--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--but it also allows America to protect its citizens and repel attackers. This is war, and the rules are different. Get used to it.

9) I am heartened by talk of returning to the draft--but let's redefine what conscripts would be used for. We are now deploying several hundred National Guardsmen to protect airports and other public facilities--this is a perfect job for well-trained Guardsmen, and a perfect job for well-trained conscripts. Let's bring back the draft, but let's put these conscripts to work defending public places near their hometowns, not overseas fighting. Leave the fighting to the professional soldiers and the full-time Guard, and let's use draftees for homeland security.

Young men and women should also realize what an opportunity the Guard and Reserve really is. The part-time military forces provide excellent training, decent pay, substantial benefits, many full-time employment opportunities, and the chance to "see the world," as corny as that phrase sounds.

I would go so far as to make basic military training or public service mandatory before receiving a high school diploma. We should turn the U.S. Army into a training corps to train every able-bodied man and woman in basic military, paramilitary (Coast Guard, Customs Service) or police education, and then mandate a certain time in the Guard or Reserves--1 year--and then mandatory membership in the inactive Guard or Reserves until the age of 30.

The problem is, the Guard and Reserve have been over-utilized lately in so-called "peacekeeping" missions all over the world. Some deployments have lasted months, which definitely reduces interest in serving in such units. Most part-time military folks already had full-time military careers and now they want to have careers in the civilian world, and despite laws against it, they lose out if they are in the Guard or Reserve.

This needs to be changed, and QUICKLY. The Guard and Reserve should be used ONLY for homeland defense except in a dire emergency or for certain critical specialties. We should keep the Guard on U.S. soil, where they belong, and let the full-time professional soldiers deploy to protect American interests overseas.

10) Don't let the media or bin Laden's spokespersons confuse the situation in Afghanistan with the situation in Israel, Gaza, or Palestine. These are two separate issues.

More later! Keep the faith in America, be watchful and vigilant, and don't be afraid to speak out. GBA, Dale...

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