Afghanistan: October 31, 2001

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British SAS troops first entered Afghanistan on 16 Sept, according to Soldier of Fortune magazine. Several four-man teams entered from Tajikistan and were doing recon patrols around Kabul. One team became involved in a firefight on 21 September but were safely extracted.--Stephen V Cole

Of all the weapons available to the US in the War on Terrorism, money is the one most likely to be effective. Take, for example, ground fighting in Afghanistan. Getting American ground forces to this landlocked nation takes time. No so much to move the troops, but to stockpile the supplies to keep them going. Even a thousand troops on the ground in northern Afghanistan requires 50 tons of supplies a day. Moreover, its prudent to have a 30 day supply nearby (1500 tons) nearby to deal with emergencies or interruptions in supply movements. Fortunately, we dont need a lot of troops there. Just like the Saudis and Kuwaitis paid us $60 billion to run the Iraqis out of Kuwait. We supply less than that to the Northern Alliance to run the Taliban into the ground. We have mutual interests with the Northern Alliance. We both want to dump the Taliban and the Afghans need the money. Moreover, the money angle does not involve moving a lot of stuff to Central Asia. Stuff (food, clothing, medicine, building materials) is already there. As aid organizations have learned long ago, its cheaper to buy locally and hire locals to deliver the stuff. Sure, theres corruption and theft, but thats less of a problem than trying to bring it and move it yourself. The effectiveness of money can even be seen in Taliban controlled territory. Despite closed borders, the smugglers get through with food and consumer goods. The starvation in parts of Afghanistan is largely due to lack of money, not lack of food. America has always been reluctant to use the money weapon vigorously. But this is changing, as seen by the large rewards for bin Laden and his aides, and the billion dollars given to Pakistan to ease the pain of supporting the War on Terrorism. A lot of the money being deployed is not seen, at least not right away. Money is being spent on the Northern Alliance, among Pushtuns in Pakistan, in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Reporters dont get many of these stories. For example, all of a sudden, Northern Alliance commanders have a lot more cash to buy weapons and ammunition locally. There are a lot of weapons for sale in Afghanistan. Its easier to send money than guns. Money not only talks, it can also win wars.

The Information War is the most visible aspect of the war so far. The Taliban and their Islamic allies know that the most powerful weapon they have is propaganda. Despite the historically low number of civilian casualties from the bombing, each dead or injured civilian is highlighted as an example of American genocide and war on Islam. This is done dramatically, with the maximum amount of puffery that the media will tolerate. But dead civilians make for compelling headlines, and the media runs with it. The media are less likely to cover all the civilian lives saved by US relief efforts. Its just the way the media (and human nature) works. If it bleeds, it leads. Theres always the possibility that the genocide campaign could throw Pakistan into turmoil and close that nations bases and air space to American armed forces. This would make it more difficult, but not impossible, for American forces to operate against Afghanistan. If Uzbekistan and Tajikistan could be forced out of the war effort (much less likely), the Taliban would be much more secure. This war for public opinion, especially in Pakistan, is the only one the Taliban have chance to win. So they have nothing to lose in giving it all theyve got.

American air strikes continue against Taliban troops outside Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, as well as Taliban equipment and supplies inside Afghan cities. The Northern Alliance is impatient for enough air support to allow an advance against the Taliban. This would require the use of American heavy bombers (B-52s and B-1s out of Diego Garcia and B-2s out of the US.) Heavy bombing attacks like this could come any time. Mazar-I-Sharif is talked about as the future base for American ground troops. But the delay in the use of heavy bombers probably has more to do with the time needed to move in supplies (including fuel and bombs to Diego Garcia) than anything else. Remember, logistics is driving the pace of military operations more than most news directors and TV viewers realize. Logistics is always the limiting factor.

 

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