Which way on Afghanistan?

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th October 2001 03:00 AM

The method used in Iraq would be a quick solution but it would be wrong

By Gwynne Dyer WHO would have guessed that almost a month after the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, not one American soldier anywhere in the world would have pushed a button or pulled a trigger in retaliation? The patience and maturity of the American public is as remarkable as the transformation of the Bush administration from a unilateralist, almost isolationist clique to methodical, almost plodding coalition-builders. The problem with the minimalist strategy is that while it would keep US casualties down to a minimum, it would probably kill lots of innocent Afghans with bombs and missiles, and it certainly wouldn’t destroy the al-Qaeda organisation. It might not even get Osama bin Laden. It is what any US administration would have done in the late 80s or 90s, when the public was totally allergic to American military casualties, but public opinion may be more tolerant of military casualties in the wake of the thousands of American civilian dead. If Americans will now support a truly serious response and accept the resultant loss of American soldiers’ lives, then why not do the job right? That would involve invading Afghanistan, overthrowing the Taleban regime, imposing a relatively sane and respectable government of non-fanatical Afghans in its place, and then deluging the country with food and aid so that the new regime survives. With a friendly government in Kabul, friendly troops on the ground and good local intelligence, the US could track down and dismantle the whole bin Laden organisation in Afghanistan — provided, of course, that it didn’t get bogged down in a long guerilla war instead. An invasion would get the job done, if it succeeded, whereas nothing else really will, but the risks feel so big (especially given the dismal history of previous invasions of Afghanistan) that most American military planners favour the more limited option. It is the political side of the house, as usual, that is tempted by the more extreme option. The politicians will be blamed by the public if the operation doesn’t actually destroy bin Laden’s organisation, whereas it is the generals who will carry the can if an invasion of Afghanistan turns into a new Vietnam. But beyond merely selfish motives, who is right — and who will win? The right answer, in terms of capturing or killing bin Laden, destroying his organisation, and satisfying the American public, is undoubtedly invasion. If those are the results you want, then these are the actions you must take, at whatever cost. And the cost would not necessarily be too great, since Afghanistan has never been a difficult country to invade. It is much more difficult to hold, as both the British and the Soviets learned to their cost, but with the right policies there would not have to be a long guerilla resistance. The Taleban are very unpopular with most Afghans, and this time there would be no outside powers stimulating and subsidising a guerilla resistance to the occupation. Put in the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to rebuild a country that has been shattered by 22 years of war, and you could even have a success story on your hands. But this is not likely to happen, because the instinct of the US military is always to minimise the risks to its own position and reputation. The compromise that is being proposed in Washington, therefore, is to overthrow the Taleban, but without involving```` American ground troops in any large way. Just hire the thugs of the Northern Alliance, the losing side in the civil war that was almost over, and give them enough money and guns to do the job for you. They would then kill, rape and rob their way back into power, with the assistance of US air power used in the customary lavish way. Tens of thousands of innocent Afghans would be killed and Muslim opinion elsewhere would be outraged, but the new regime, once it got power, would collaborate (after a fashion) in the US search for bin Laden and company. It would be a classic imperial solution: get foreigners to do the dying for you, and accept a rather muddy outcome in terms of results. But it would also be the wrong thing to do. “Even women can fight through computers and airplanes,” said Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taleban leader, last Thursday. “If (the Americans) are men, let them come to the Afghan battlefield to see who the Afghans are.” And though the mullah’s sentiments are not even remotely correct politically, his advice is good. If the United States is serious about this, then it should do it the hard way. Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist

Which way on Afghanistan?

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