"This is a new business, and no one has any answers or any real plans on what's the best way to do it." - recently retired CIA senior intelligence official
Uncertainty is the prevailing ethos enveloping our nation and its political leadership. The dubious success of our military operations and increased public anxiety regarding biological warfare have left politicians scrambling in the dark, blindly groping for a solution to the climate of fear sweeping the country.
Three weeks into our fight against terrorism, the United States has little success and a host of embarrassing and severely damaging blunders to boast of. The announced intention of the U.S. government has been to wipe out Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, those implicated directly in the attacks against America. However, the U.S.-led military strikes against Afghanistan have had a minimal impact on this ultimate objective.
After pummeling missiles for the last three weeks at Kabul and al Qaeda training camps and all the other "strategic" sites the military speaks of, it is difficult to imagine what is left to bomb in the essentially poverty-stricken land of desolate fields and uncharted mountains. Afghanistan does not possess thriving commercial factories producing weapons or warplanes in mass quantities to raze nor does it have high-tech military establishments to direct our cruise missiles toward.
Neither surveillance nor military strikes on al Qaeda camps, terrorist compounds or suspect caves have so far succeeded in locating, killing or capturing bin Laden or other key figures in his terrorist network. There is little evidence that our mass destruction of the Afghan terrain has directly weakened the elusive terrorist cells within Afghanistan or the Taliban regime - let alone the equally militant cells harbored in other corners of the globe.
In the last week, the U.S.-led military campaign has failed to produce concrete and discernible benefits while simultaneously mounting civilian casualties, political setbacks and errant missiles threaten to damage worldwide support for the United States and diminish hopes for a stable and lasting peace any time in the near future.
Two anti-Taliban villages were hit separately by American bombs over the weekend. While the death toll seems minimal compared to the scale of the war, and excusable to many Americans who believe that such "mistakes" are inevitable byproducts of any military operation, reports of innocent deaths only serve to undermine efforts at international cooperation and fuel the cries of injustice reverberating throughout the worldwide Muslim community.
Last Thursday, U.S. planes dropped eight tons of bombs on Red Cross warehouses in Kabul, demolishing much-needed humanitarian supplies and further exacerbating the suffering of the Afghan people. Despite the red crosses clearly demarcating the buildings as those of the international relief agency, Thursday's blunder marked the second time American bombs struck the site.
Unless the United States obliterates the entire country of Afghanistan, causing the deaths of thousands of innocent Afghan citizens in addition to their oppressive government and the lethal terrorist minority to which bin Laden belongs, it is impossible to directly pinpoint bin Laden and his shadowy followers via planes miles above the ground. The deployment of ground troops seems the only way to effectively target al Qaeda, but the stakes in such a strategy are immense.
Even highly disorganized guerilla warriors employing hit-and-run tactics hold the advantage against foreign intruders in Afghanistan's unfamiliar eastern mountains. Military success in such conditions is possible only with the support of local populations - support which is steadily eroding as misfired and mistargeted missiles have destroyed anti-Taliban homes and killed U.S.-friendly Afghan citizens.
As one Afghan man told the Christian Science Monitor after two homes in an anti-Taliban village were mistakenly leveled by a U.S. bomb, "America is a superpower, and they should only bomb Taliban targets. They made a mistake. We will forgive them this first time. But if they do it again, they are our enemy."
It is people like Mr. Abdul Wali, quoted above, who are critical in aiding the United States' campaign against bin Laden and by extension, the Taliban. Unless a viable governmental alternative emerges to replace the Taliban, the radical Islamic fundamentalist government which is impeding American efforts to locate bin Laden, a lasting solution to the current situation is inconceivable.
In the absence of such an alternative, even those within Afghanistan opposing the Taliban are unlikely to join forces with the United States without some guarantee of protection against counter-attacks by pro-Taliban forces.
The possibility of installing an alternative government in Afghanistan was dampened last Friday when Taliban leaders captured and executed Abdul Haq, a key rebel commander, and gained possession of Haq's list of moderates within the Taliban ranks. While our political leaders continue to speak of victory, the Taliban and bin Laden's supporters seem to have gained the upper hand - the unorganized band has managed to escape the blunt force of the world's military and economic superpower essentially unscathed.
As anthrax scares sweep the American homefront and air strikes abroad report minimal success, it is beginning to seem that bin Laden has brought our nation to its knees. We have the bigger guns and far superior resources, but if the missteps and setbacks of the last week are any indication, sheer military prowess will not win this complex war where the "enemy" transcends state boundaries and the deep-seated hatred of American policies and the American way of life cannot be rectified by a well-targeted missile.