Bombs and Blunders
The overt military phase of the War on Terrorism has begun. What follows are some observations based upon initial reports and what we already knew.
- While the United States has declared a "War On Terrorism," it has chosen for its first military strike to attack a regime that has not been directly linked to the Sep. 11 attacks and is merely accused of "harboring terrorists." The US admits itself that 59 other countries "harbor terrorists." Actually, the number is closer to 200.
Repugnant as the Taliban are, this is a classic bait and switch on the American public, promising to fight terrorism and instead bombing an already bombed-out country ruled by psychotic but, in this case, helpless thugs. It accomplishes very little that will either bring Sep. 11's perpetrators to justice or prevent future terrorism.
- This is not The War. This is a skirmish in a much longer war that has now officially begun. The Taliban rule one of the poorest, most war-torn countries in the world; even if they are so inclined, they have no ability to defend themselves or the country in any meaningful way. Forcing them out of power demonstrates America's military might to the world, but terrorist camps can be set up anywhere someone can buy 100 acres.
- One of the reasons Bill Clinton's cruise missile strikes in 1998 may have actually emboldened bin Laden and other terrorists is that it convinced them that the US would never get its hands dirty by close-in fighting, preferring to launch missiles and drop bombs from safe distances -- a tactic they regarded as a sign of moral weakness. These are the only types of US/British military activity reported so far. It is, once again, exactly the response bin Laden's crew wanted in their ideal scenario of how to create World War III.
- It has been widely noted that targetting civilian populations for retribution -- particularly with an initial strike -- will, both by killing people and by creating martyrs, inspire future terrorism. It will badly damage, especially in the Islamic world, the US's moral advantage as a victim of attack. US and British warplanes began by dropping bombs Sunday in the following cities:
- Kabul, the capital, population 1.5 million
- Kandahar, population 226,000
- Jalalabad, population 60,000
- Kunduz, population 60,000
- Electricity was cut off to Kabul in the first wave of bombing. US officials have said that they won't target civilian infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water supplies, or power plants. But civilian infrastructure has already been hit.
- Only two C-17 transport planes are dropping humanitarian aid to Afghanis, with only enough rations to feed about 37,000 people for a day. The UN estimates over a million Afghanis are on the brink of starvation, and another one million are at risk.
The food drop, thus far, seems to a propaganda exercise, not a serious attempt to win favor by helping to address a humanitarian crisis. That food crisis has been exascerbated by interrupted food supply lines and fleeing foreign aid workers in advance of the attacks. Meanwhile, the US pressured Pakistan to close its border with Afghanistan, trapping hundreds of thousands of refugees in Afghanistan without access to food, water, or health care.
- After nearly four weeks of work cobbling together a united world front, the "coalition" attacking the Taliban consists thus far of the US and Britain. The US has not received permission to use air bases in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Oman. British planes and US B-52s are using a British air base in Diego Garcia. Long-range B-2 bombers are flying out of a base in Missouri. US planes (Air Force F-15s, F-16s, and Navy F-17s) are flying from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. Fifty cruise missiles (cost: $1 million each) were launched from submarines in the Gulf.
- US ground troops may already be in Afghanistan. When asked Sunday if ground troops were deployed there, Secretary Rumsfeld hesitated, said "Yes -- ", stopped himself, consulted with a member of the Joint Chiefs, then replied cryptically that if the US had deployed troops "it would be known by now." He then refused to answer further questions about deployment. The US had already deployed advance scouts into Afghanistan and advisors to help the opposition Northern Alliance.
- President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld have announced support for the opposition Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the Northern Alliance has killed tens of thousands of civilians by bombing neighborhoods in Kabul, has killed thousands of prisoners of war, and has ethnically cleansed ethnic Pashtun villages in areas under Alliance control. Members of the Alliance are followers of a type of fundamentalist Islam that's only marginally less strict than the Taliban's. The Alliance includes factions accused of mass rape during the post-Soviet civil war. The UN reports that the Alliance is now the largest producer of opium in Afghanistan.
- Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar were not injured in Sunday's bombing. US officials have admitted that they will not be able to kill either one of them. In fact, the bombing campaign will only help the cause of anti-American fundamentalists. Already, thousands of Pakistani students are crossing the border to join the Taliban.
- Qatar TV released a taped speech by Osama bin Laden. Some western reporters have claimed that, in the tape, bin Laden admitted prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. In fact, portions of the tape released on NPR and articles run by the Associated Press say that bin Laden praises the attacks, but takes no responsibility for planning them. even though he has been quick to take responsibility for other attacks against US targets abroad.
- The US has released no hard evidence of Osama bin Laden's connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. On Friday, the British government released a report that links bin Laden's organization to the bombing of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, based largely on the testimony of one, widely discredited witness. But, it contained no new evidence linking him or Al Qaeda to the Sept. 11 attacks. When the US made its case for bin Laden's guilt to NATO, European diplomats were quoted as saying that the evidence contained "no smoking gun," was "circumstantial at best," and that much of it was already in the public domain.
- Far more Pakistani people have opposed US military action than Western media have generally reported. Since the Pakistani government issued a statement of support for US military action, demonstrations have erupted across Pakistan. On Tuesday, Oct. 2, more than 50,000 people marched in the Pakistan city of Quetta. Pakistani mullahs have issued a fatwa against US troops that enter Afghanistan and any Pakistanis who help them. Pakistan is a nuclear power and the possibility of a coup against Pakistan's military dictatorship is real and frightening.
For nearly a month, anti-war activists have been hoping against hope that by demonstrating restraint, the Bush Administration was showing that it understood that large-scale military attacks could not prevent terrorism. At this writing, Sunday evening, much is not known; it's always useful to remember as a war starts that governments, and their obedient media, almost always lie in wartime, as the Bush Administration has promised it will do. So we don't know the whole story; but we do probably know the most palatable part. And based on that, it's already clear that just as the need for better domestic security has fallen into the traps of racial profiling and gutted civil liberties, the need for an international response has fallen into the trap of killing people who have no relationship to the goal of stopping terrorism. George W. Bush's "War On Terrorism" needs a reversal of tactics, quickly, before the consequences become catastrophic.
Thanks for the special Sunday research help from my Eat the State! co-editor, Maria Tomchick.