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Friday, October 24, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 10/27/2001

Time is running out for military success

There should be magnanimity in victory. But our failure to secure victory first has set us up for a setback in Afghanistan.

Valuable time has been frittered away as politicians and diplomats haggle over the composition of a post-Taliban government. But there will be no post-Taliban government unless and until the Taliban are defeated. And now there is no longer enough time to achieve significant military success before winter and Ramadan bring military operations to a virtual close.

The Pollyanna-meets-Dr. Pangloss view most Americans have of how things are going in Afghanistan is chiefly a product of gross misreporting by a press corps that has virtually no knowledge of military affairs.

Every day we are told that the U.S. Air Force, and Navy are “pounding” the Taliban in “the heaviest air strikes yet.” The truth is the air strikes haven't been all that heavy. There have been fewer than 100 sorties a day, almost all by fighter-bombers rather than by heavy bombers. This is in part because we haven't got all that many combat aircraft in the theater, and in part because of the paucity of targets in Afghanistan. But it mostly has been due to political considerations.

“Despite what the campaign sometimes looks like on television ... the air strikes over the past two weeks have been restricted,” wrote Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post. “The strikes have been so curtailed that there has been some grumbling inside the Air Force.

“The selection of targets and the pace of the campaign have been constrained, if not determined, as much by political and diplomatic calculations as by the Bush administration's primary goal of dismantling the terror network,” Mr. Ricks reported.

In other words, our bombing in Afghanistan so far resembles the bombing campaign against North Vietnam - in which Lyndon Johnson confused the Air Force with Western Union - and in the early days of the Kosovo war, where, after-action reports make clear, almost no damage was done to Serb armored forces.

If we were serious about opening paths for Northern Alliance troops, B-52s would be raining bombs on Taliban troop concentrations. The earth would shake, and those in the impact area who weren't killed or wounded would have their hearing shattered.

A half-hearted bombing campaign can do more harm than good, because it causes as much public relations harm as an effective campaign would do, without producing conclusive result on the battlefield.

We've been reluctant to assist a Northern Alliance march on Kabul mostly because the Pakistanis, who created the Taliban, don't want the Taliban's enemies in power.

A so far fruitless search has been made for “moderate” members of the Taliban to join in a postwar coalition government. The Taliban stones 8-year-old girls who want to learn how to read. Is a “moderate” member of the Taliban someone who doesn't start stoning girls caught with books until they reach age 10?

We're coming belatedly to the conclusion that oversensitivity to Pakistani concerns does us more harm than good. But that realization is coming too late to accomplish much before winter sets in.

The much ballyhooed Ranger assault on Taliban leader Sheik Omar Muhammad's compound near Kandahar brought both good news and bad.

The good news was that we were able to go in and get out virtually unscathed. The bad news is that Taliban troops resisted fiercely, if ineffectively.

“U.S. military chiefs had banked on the four main Afghan cities of Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Herat falling into U.S. hands three weeks before the onset of heavy winter snows,” DEBKAfile, an Israeli-based private intelligence service, said. “That estimate has been revised.”

Jack Kelly is a member of The Blade's national bureau. E-mail him at jkelly@post-gazette.com.



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