The war does not seem to be going well - now what?

So apparently, things are not going as well as might have been hoped in the war. Despite intense bombing, the Taliban have not crumbled, significant warlords have not defected, the population in Afghanistan has not turned against the Taliban, the Afghan opposition has suffered setbacks, public opinion in a Muslim world has turned increasingly against the US. Civilian casualties are mounting, public opinion at home and abroad becomes a bit edgier. Some cites:

From the AP: Militants Stream Toward Afghanistan

From the NY Times: Tenacious Taliban Cling to Power, With Tactics, Cunning and Help From Old Friends

From the Financial Times:

(See also UK PRESS TURNS BACK ON USA by Matt Drudge)

Questions: Is the US campaign really going badly, or has is merely failed to live up to unrealistic expectations?

Could anything have been done differently?

How do you see things turning out, in light of the latest developments?

Should the US change anything about its strategy at this point?

If all the recent developments do continue to head in the same downhill direction, what do we do next?

Should a man named Stufflebeem have been made a Rear Admiral? (OK, just kidding about that one.)

My own question:
Is it realistic to expect the US military to have achieved all their goals in–what is it now?–three weeks?

Things seem to be more or less on track to me. It was said from the beginning that this operation was going to take a lot of time. Ground operations will be necessary.

We are still in the preliminary stages of the war. It’s a bit early to be speculating on failure.

Now what?

Oh, why don’t we, say, adopt the realistic expectation that not every war we fight is going to be done in a few weeks? That we’re actually going to get involved in messy ground fighting, that we’re going to take casualties, that we’re going to lose some battles, and that it’s going to be a long while before this is done with?

What I keep wanting to know is-will Congress have to declare war?

The prolonged campaign is to be expected, but I’d be most worried about American spin control in the middle east, myself – if more locals think poorly of the US, that’s just going to give us more headaches in the future…

The Administration has repeated time after time that this will be a difficult, dangerous, lengthy war, that our allies will not always agree with us (“Let there be no doubt, as well, that there will not be a single coalition, as there was in the Gulf War … we will see evolving coalitions that will evolve and change over time, depending on the activity and the circumstance of the country and the mission needs to define the coalition and we ought not to think that a coalition should define the mission.” – Rumsfeld, Sept. 26), and that there will be no easy victory.

Hearing this, the media seem to have concluded that the Administration promised a war that would only take two weeks, would eliminate the Taliban purely through the use of air strikes, would cause no civilian deaths, and would not offend anyone in the entire world.

I attribute this to most of the media having first-hand knowledge only of the Gulf War, the least typical war in human history. That, and the media having seen way too many Chuck Norris Delta Force movies when they were kids.

Well that’s part of the question. If you go into a campaign you have a plan - we do A, B will happen, we do C, D will happen etc. If the plan is not working out, you would be wise to reconsider. There’s nothing wrong a long protracted campaign other than the fact that it’s not as good as a short decisive one. But things have to be going according to plan. So to clarify:

My point is not that things are not going well because we have not won yet. Rather, it is that things do not appear to be going well because the US plans do not appear to be working to this point - that what were reported to be the hoped for outcomes even to this point, have not come to pass. And that things seem to be heading in reverse somewhat.

Unless the reporting was wrong, e.g. the US did not expect defections from the Taliban ranks etc. But the quote from Stufflebeem and others that I’ve seen do indocate that the US had expected to make more progress by this point.

Could you possibly provide some of those quotes?

(Not trying to be snide here–I just don’t recall hearing any specific predictions that were made and have failed to come to pass.)

Well the quote from Stufflebeem was in the OP. The others refer to discussions in the media over the first month or so over what could and could not be expected. My impression is that a lot more was expected out of the NA folks, and other Taliban warlords than has happened. Also, Bush went to great lengths to appease the “moderate Arabs” in his “coalition”, which appears to be fraying.

No sweat - perfectly reasonable request. Hey, I may be wrong - could be it was just media talking heads all along. If I can dig up any precise quotes, I’ll provide them.

Here’s a transcript of the press conference with the Stufflebeem comment:

Say what you will about Adm. Stufflebeem’s name, but it sure makes him easier to find with Google than the John Smiths of the world…

Obviously the weekend’s discussion has raised some interesting and essential questions. Here are some thoughts that I have had over the past couple of days: Americans pretty much operate on a “can-do” attitude and ingrained assumption that there is always an answer to solve any question or issue. We also had a earth shattering experience occur on September 11th which begged for an immediate action; the first couple of days were shaky, but the administration responded well and in what I believe are appropriate ways. The public health response to the anthrax event was not exactly reassuring, but this sector quickly recovered by reviewing/amending its basic assumptions. So far, so good.

The Guardian raised some “to the point” questions which need to be addressed [some were offbased so I am including what I think are relevant].

  1. What has the bombing achieved so far? Is bombing the Taliban back to 5,000 BC not enough? Will bombing them to 6,000 BC be more effective? More importantly, why, when it is agreed that the war will ultimately be won on the ground and air superiority has been attained, have special forces still not been deployed in any effective manner?

  2. Why is the US loosing the “public relations” front when we have the most effective pr experience in the world? How could USAID have been so stupid as to drop thousands of pr pieces [written] on a nation with a staggering 90+% illiteracy rate? Even more stupid was the dropping of hand cranked radios clearly labeled American on a population that has never seen a crank radio and in which many villages have radios? Would you crank a radio you found which said “From your friends the al quaida”?

  3. According to the Guardian, “plans are apparently afoot to place a post-was Afghanistan into a sort of UN receivership”. This assumes that the Taliban will not operate a guerilla war from those infamous caves. Is the UN willing to do this? Do they have plans? How can the US assume that this will be done and that we can play an enormous [ie: Marshall Plan role] when we can’t even pay our long outstanding dues?

  4. What the hell are we going to do to help stabilize Pakistan - a nuclear power?

As for the humanitarian concerns of the starving Afghanis, this really hurts on one hand. On the other, it is the result of the Taliban refusal to consider the rights of its citizens over bin Laden and his ilk.

I believe there needs to be more clarity in what is the strategy. Just saying that we can’t talk about military action for security/success reasons isn’t enough. Our press is smarter than that. The administration needs to be more forthcoming with answers so that support will continue. I don’t think we need to suffer another sucker punch.

I agree to a point. I think at first blush it looked as if we had a natural ally in the NA. We could pound the snot out of things from the air and provide other logistical support and the NA would do much of the ground fighting. Having other Afghanis take a city would be preferrable to having the US occupy a city.

Unfortunately I think it became apparent to the Bush administration that the NA isn’t really any more preferrable than the Taliban is. I’ll give them credit for backing off on this issue. It certainly would have been easier in the short term to support the NA and let them do the dirty work but things probably would not be better in the long run if that happened.

Now we are in the weird position of not wanting to add to our enemies in the form of the NA without supporting them either.

To be successful I feel we need to come up with an alternate government that is palatable to the majority of Afghanis. Many Afghanis don’t like the Taliban but in the absence of any other options what do you expect them to do? Unfortunately it seems as if every measly group over there has its own agenda and coming up with a solution that a majority would accept is very difficult (not to mention a government the western world and middle eastern states can accept). Still, I think the answer is to give the Afghanis another banner to rally around that is opposed to the Taliban. Once that happens various warlords might switch allegiance. Once they start going more and more will go with them afraid of being left standing alone with the Taliban. The remaining few diehards will find life very difficult if that happened.

kiffa: The purpose of the bombing has served exactly the function the military has planned for it – destroying military targets in preparation for a ground offensive.

The purpose was never to “bomb the Taliban back to the Stone Age” or cause indiscriminate damage. (Believe me, if we wanted to do indiscriminate damage, we have much better ways of doing it than using a handful of extremely expensive precision-guided bombs.) The purpose was to take out anti-aircraft sites first, then military installations and terrorist bases, and then bomb Taliban troop concentrations. We’ve accomplished the first two goals, and are now working on the third.

This is all just preparation for ground action, either by Special Forces, or the Northern Alliance, or both. Why hasn’t ground action been taken yet? Because, from a strictly military perspective, there’s no huge rush. We have total command of the air, meaning we can pick off Taliban targets from the air whenever they come out of hiding. Better to go slow and take out as many hidden targets as possible before exposing ground troops.

We also need to prepare the entire military for ground action. You need supply lines and field hospitals and reinforcements and contingency plans. Keep in mind that it’s only been six weeks since the Sept. 11 attack itself, and there were absolutely zero preparations in place before that date. By contrast, there was a five-month military buildup before the US fired its first shot in the Gulf war.

Obviously, at this point, it’s hard to assess the situation. I agree that ground activity is eventually necessary but (1) how can we know that ground activity hasn’t started already; and (2) the plan may call for a few months of air attacks. (As I recall, the air attacks in Desert Storm lasted a couple months before ground troops were sent in.)

My instinct is that it’s a little early to change strategies. In any event, IMHO, our strategy shouldn’t depend on people rising up against the Taliban and overthrowing it. Have any American military campaigns resulted in revolutions? (I’m asking - I don’t know the answer, but I can’t think of any)

The U.S. has intervened in places like the Dominican Republic and Haiti with the intent of displacing a government it didn’t like and replacing it with one more to its liking. Whether or not you consider that a revolution is for people to split hairs over.

In a sense, the U.S. started a revolution of sorts in Iran to get rid of Mossadegh and install the Shah in the early 1950s.

In retrospect that wasn’t a very good idea.

More, from USA Today: U.S. expects longer war


For one thing, putting any forces on the ground will mean that some of them will die. Hitting Taliban sites with incredibly scary AC-130U gunships and smart bombs is cheaper in terms of lives and logistical support necessary, and offers the Taliban forces little chance of any victory to boost their spirits.

Well, the little holographic thingies from Star Wars haven’t been invented yet, so we have to settle for what we can afford to drop in mass numbers out of airplanes. I’m guessing that crank radios were dropped because electricity is not available in much of the country. In the largest city the Northern Alliance holds, for example, the power grid has been down for ten years or so.

The US seems intent to take out the Taliban regardless of what anyone else thinks. The UN will probably feel compelled to play a role in reconstructing Afghanistan, because that’s the sort of thing we have a UN for. I don’t think the US will do anything to prevent it. The US’s unwillingness to pay the UN what the UN wants for dues is irrelevant.

In any event, with an end to the war not even in sight, this is pretty premature speculation. Perhaps the US is going slow to give it time to come up with future plans.

Keeping the government of Pakistan on our side, without making them look too bad in front of their people. We will probably intervene if open revolt breaks out, and have doubtlessly promised the current government this to get them to be at ease with the idea of staying on our side, against the wishes of a large and vocal segment of the population.

I mean, what else can we do? Anything Pakistan does to help us, even the littlest bit, will piss people in Pakistan off. However, I don’t think that the number of people pissed off grows in proportion to how much Pakistan does to help us, but will mostly be composed of the portion of the population that supports the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Perhaps they’ll go to help the Taliban out rather than destabilize Pakistan. That way, they’ll be legitimate targets for us to shoot.

The administration has the overwhelming support of the people here. The US is not at all saying, “well, shoot, if it can’t be done in three weeks, why bother at all?”.

In World War II, the British suffered one defeat after another from Dunkirk to just before El-Alamein without losing faith. I think the US is strong enough to withstand weeks of lukewarm success.

Extremely doubtful. Any revolt that does not have military support will get nowhere in a place like Pakistan. And I can’t conceive of the US intervening in a revolt that involves the Pakistani army.

This can change. And lack of progress is something that can make it change.

I doubt that will happen anytime soon. I think it would be even less likely if certain elements of the media stop printing stories like the ones you quoted in the OP, which seem to me to imply that the administration has promised a quick and easy solution, when it has maintained just the opposite since Sept. 11[sup]th[/sup]. If we haven’t made any progress in another three months, I can see some serious questioning coming up, but not anytime soon.

Yes, I’d like some good news. However, much of the progress we could be making now is the sort of thing (inserting special forces, taking out key people, gathering intelligence) that we shouldn’t be told about yet.

What specific things do you feel the administration has promised that have not been attained?