by Austin Bay
Target. Besiege. Strike.
These three words provide a succinct guide to America's strategyfor waging a "global counter terror war" -- a struggle that may well be themost intricate and nuanced conflict the planet has ever witnessed.
Nuanced, however, does not necessarily mean "new," so beware ofTV squawk show chatter about a "new kind of warfare."
Every war is complex, chaotic, physically and emotionallydebilitating and -- no matter how right the cause -- at some point morallycompromised. This war will be no different.
America's biggest strategic challenge will be one as old as waritself: maintaining the will to persevere and pursue the task of victorydespite understandable fears, gnawing doubts, the occasional coward andinevitable body bags.
With that as a grounding given, the terror war presents numerouspolitical and military challenges, and the biggest of these is "targeting."
"Knowing" who and where the enemy's located is, of course,fundamental to any kind of effective military operation or diplomaticinitiative. My first company commander wasn't a particularly eloquent man,but he knew the soldier's business. "Reconnaissance, Bay, is worth itsweight in gold" -- he burned that mantra into my brain. Map study, spotreports from recon teams and analyzing what I saw through my own binocularspreceded putting the tanks in gear.
When combating terrorists, the same principle applies.
Terrorists, however, are tougher to detect than enemy tanks.Terror organizations resemble crime syndicates. Think niches, nodes andnetworks. Since a visible terrorist is usually a dead terrorist, they mustinhabit hidden "niches." While often operating as individuals and dispersedcells, to sustain operations they require supporting "nodes" (of resources)and networks (for facilitating operations and distributing resources).
Afghanistan has a million difficult-to-find "niches," but sodoes Chicago -- and Chicago cops do catch crooks. Identifying terroristniches creates an immense demand for detailed information, but the UnitedStates and its allies have the resources for this intelligence effort. Themissing element has been the political will to focus those resources. Thatwill is now present. Intelligence agencies will leverage high-tech assets toidentify terrorist hideouts and safe-houses, but "gumshoe detectives" (humanspies) will play a major role. The political focus will allow intelligenceagencies to cooperate more closely. Restrictions on developing sources willease.
However, attempting to destroy each niche wastes assets. Theterrorists' supporting "nodes" are fewer in number and easier to spot. Thesenodes include states that harbor terrorists, banks that protect terroristfinancial assets, and other organizations that provide training, suppliesand political support.
Enter "besiege." If you visualize a medieval castle, that'sappropriate, since the banks, parliaments and intelligence agenciessupporting terrorists have definite medieval mindsets. The United States hasalready launched a "squeeze" on terrorist finances, with legal and politicalpower "besieging" the banks. At a strategic level, Secretary of State ColinPowell is orchestrating a political siege of the Taliban and Iraq by formingan "anti-terror" coalition. "Besieging" the Taliban also takes the form ofproviding anti-Taliban Afghanis with aid and intelligence. Economic embargo,a form of political siege, coerces other rogue states.
Legally, financially and politically crushing these "nodes" notonly deprives the terrorists of material and psychological resources, butprovides more detailed intelligence, often in the form of defectors spillingsecrets.
This leads to "strike." Strike in the counter-terror war willtake several forms. Certain support nodes won't succumb to aggressivediplomacy. "Strike" in the case of an Iraq will entail more classicconventional combat, with ground divisions supported by air and sea."Strike" in the case of specific terror networks will take the form ofspecial-forces operations, police raids and pinpoint air strikes with smartmunitions.
In fact, many American operations in this war will beessentially large-scale, long-range raiding expeditions. America doesn'twant to permanently hold any territory, only use territory to facilitatefurther raids.
Siege warfare, however, is slow warfare. The logisticalpreparation for even the quickest raid is a laborious process. Operations inCentral Asia make logistics even more time-consuming.
Political preparation for counter-terror war must be delicateand detailed. Even successful military strikes risk international backlashunless Powell's diplomatic effort is thorough.
At times, the American public will grow impatient. At thesuperficial level of headline news, it will appear as if nothing ishappening. Then hell will break loose in a spasm of violence. Immediateeffects may be uncertain.
As the dreary process begins again, America's collective will topersevere will be tested. New warfare? Perhaps, but at its core we face thesame old challenge.