A lot of hue and cry, some legitimate and some ill founded, has been raised at these boards about the brewing crisis in Afghanistan. I have been sometimes rightfully and sometimes quite maliciously bashed for my own stance.
I bring to you a fundamental question, and some rather uncomfortable considerations about what is involved in the suggested ground campaign that so many are bandying about here.
What shall the price of perception be? Where does it become unacceptable and does it even at all? At what point does the loss of life in our armed forces become more important than the perception that we are always so prim and proper in the prosecution of our military goals? I do not suggest that we should be entirely unconcerned about the need to maintain a certain basic ethicality in our conduct as a superpower. I merely would like to know when it is that the loss of life no longer makes that ethicality practicable. Is the number, one? Is it one hundred, a thousand? More than the five thousand that we have already lost? How many?
In conducting a ground war in Afghanistan we are confronted with many extremely difficult goals and perilous situations. There will probably be exceptions to the regular rules of warfare so as to make the Viet Cong look like school boys. I give you a few to consider.
What shall be done when we round up some suspects only to have dozens of our own soldiers killed when one of the detainees detonates the bomb that is strapped to his body?
What shall be done when we get sick of losing even a single GI as he attempts to pat down another suicide attacker carrying a bomb?
Do you think that mandatory strip searching of suspects will solve the problem? Do you think it won’t just enrage people even more?
What method can we use to distinguish the terrorist elements from valid refugees as we attempt to monitor those leaving the battle scene? (Please know that this is in no way any attempt whatsoever to justify indiscriminate killing of the population.)
What means will we use to suppress continued infiltration and reenlisting of the refugee population by the terrorist elements?
How will we accurately monitor the huge quantities of people displaced by our actions?
What will we do when we finally encounter the ultimate evil as prisoners of war arrive who have ingested quantities of explosive in order to serve as human bombs?
Do not snicker at this last suggestion. It is a distinct possibility. Quite obviously, nothing is beyond these vermin. Such a concept is not much of a reach after September the eleventh. What is the response to such an event? Do we have to set up x-ray or MRI body imaging systems to detect such deceit?
If a conventional war is to be fought, our side will quickly realize that unconventional methods may be entirely necessary. I maintain that swift and overwhelming retaliation may actually result in less overall loss of human life. We could see extremely reduced casualties for our side, reduced Afghani citizen casualties and less actual suffering than a protracted war might bring. There are important similarities to be drawn with Japan, but unlike Japan such an equation must totally and irrevocably exclude initiating the use of nuclear weapons.
I will repeat that I have no love for human suffering. Until last week I never thought that I could ever advocate overwhelming force so loudly. Try to remember that if Osama bin Laden was able to kill continuously at the rate he did in New York, he would surpass Hitler in just a few months. We are dealing with a monster who has deployed weapons of mass destruction against our nation. More horrific, they were civilian liners filled with human beings. This maniac and the government that harbors him have already sworn their enmity of us. What choice do we have but to bring about their utter ruination?
I am compelled to remind you that this was not simply an attack upon our nation. This was an attack on each of us and it was done with weapons of mass destruction. I can only call an act that slays thousands in an hour mass destruction. Our normal doctrine is to respond to weapons of mass destruction with similar if not greater force. It is for this reason that I feel that such overwhelming force may be justified. And I again maintain that such an attack may result in less loss of life on all sides.
We must think very carefully as to even the sheer viability of waging a ground war.
Here are some more complications to keep in mind:
How to identify and track potential or suspected terrorists as our troops encounter them?
How about generating photographic documents with both thumbprint and possibly a retinal scan of each individual processed. The management of such a database would be ponderous at best but could generate significant downstream benefits for monitoring candidates.
You could demand that all people not wishing to be detained swear an oath on a copy of the Koran denouncing the Taleban and renouncing any belief in their goals. If you think that this would work, you’d be dreaming. Goodness knows that the mullahs would give them absolution to do so.
One of the few new applicable technologies we have is mentioned in Tom Clancy’s latest snoozer “The Bear and the Dragon.” It is known as “Dark Star” and consists of unmanned remote controled drone aircraft that patrol at 60,000 feet. Using digitally augmented optical and thermal (infra red) imaging systems they are able to provide GPS coordinates for objects the size of a single human being.
A network of these drones could potentially monitor the cave areas where bin Laden and his associates may have hidden out. Any traffic to or from these locations could be detected immediately and responded to. They remain out of reach for SAM’s (Surface to Air Missiles) and fighter jets alike. The information they deliver is real time and highly detailed.
All of this assumes that bin Laden is holed up in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan. This might be an entirely erroneous assumption to make. That is why if there is going to be a complete solution to this problem it will involve Afghanistan becoming something akin to either postwar Berlin or a protectorate of the United States. If democracy could bloom in Afghanistan it would serve as a beacon for our own foreign interests as well.
However, this all remains a pipe dream when one snaps back to the realities of getting anywhere near the military advantage required in order to implement such a goal.
As you can clearly see, the choices are not obvious at all and the repercussions are vast if we allow even a few of these vermin to slip through our clutches. We are faced with an almost unwinnable campaign. What are the viable alternatives?
Once again; What is the price of perception?