For the first time since its founding nearly half a century ago, the U.S. Army Special Forces has the opportunity to perform what is supposed to be its primary mission.
The Green Berets were created to organize guerrilla resistance movements. The basic fighting unit of the Special Forces is the A-Team, two officers, and 10 sergeants, with special skills in light weapons, heavy weapons, demolitions, communications, and intelligence. An A-Team is designed to train (and lead, if necessary, as it usually is) up to a battalion of guerrilla fighters.
But Special Forces have so far been used only in counter-insurgency roles. In Vietnam, Green Berets trained and led the H'mong and other minorities despised by Vietnamese, Communist and non-Communist alike, in harassment and search and destroy missions against the Viet Cong. Soldier for soldier, they did more harm to the VC, with less “collateral damage,” than the conventional forces.
The first step that should be taken against the Taliban is a massive relief operation to aid the Afghan refugees, especially those fleeing to Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
The first thing this can accomplish is to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. We don't hate the Afghan peoples, even if most of them aren't terribly fond of us.
The second thing is to demonstrate to those in the Muslim world who are not locked in to America-hating that we are not waging war upon Islam.
The third thing is to obtain some gratitude from the people we help, who can be a source of intelligence and of recruits. The Taliban is composed almost exclusively of Pashtuns (the largest of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, but only 38 percent of the population) and foreigners. It is wildly unpopular with the other ethnic groups, which it has murderously oppressed.
Every crate of food, blankets, and medicine should come with an American flag on it. Military docs and medics should provide health care. The Stars and Stripes should be everywhere.
The fourth thing this can accomplish is to give all the would-be Scud Studs in the media something to cover. A guerrilla war takes a long time to develop, and doesn't provide many photo opportunities.
Meanwhile, we'd be bulking up the forces of the Northern Alliance. We could get the weapons required from the Russians. The Green Berets could organize, train, and lead fighting formations, with a little covert help from the Russians. We have few people who speak the languages of Central Asia. The SpetsNaz has a bunch.
Turning the Northern Alliance into a credible fighting force is critical for making use of American air power. If the forces of the Taliban are forced to move and concentrate, they'll provide lucrative targets for fighter bombers.
It's important that the Taliban be turned out of power by other Afghans, not by the United States. Osama bin Laden's goal is to inflame the entire Muslim world into jihad, a holy war against America. That'll be harder to do if one set of Muslims (even with a big hand from us) throw out another.
We should also be reluctant to bomb because the Taliban's front lines will be filled with conscripts who don't want to be there. The Taliban drafts like the Viet Cong did. Those who don't “volunteer” to fight the American imperialists are killed on the spot. The enthusiasm for the war of these conscripts is likely to be no greater than that of those Iraqis who, during the Gulf War, tried their manful best to surrender to helicopters flying overhead. We should give these guys as much opportunity as possible to surrender or defect.
Fighting the Afghan war smart will take awhile, and won't produce satisfying visuals for press and public. But fighting it stupidly can have unpleasant consequences.
Jack Kelly is a member of The Blade's national bureau. E-mail him at email@example.com.