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U.S.: Analysts Say Ground War Probably Necessary

  • Andrew Tully

Air power may have become the dominant force of modern warfare, but analysts say it cannot be the only force in neutralizing an enemy. They say the only way to ensure that a war is won is to put soldiers on the ground. And that is what America is expected to do as it pursues the Al-Qaeda network and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Washington, 12 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- It appears inevitable that the U.S. and at least some of its allies will have to introduce ground forces in Afghanistan eventually to root out elements of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, as well as the country's ruling Taliban militia.

Analysts interviewed by RFE/RL say air power alone cannot finish the job. But they also agree that it is an extremely important prelude to a ground war. Already, the heavy use of bombs and precisely aimed cruise missiles has caused major damage to the Taliban's military infrastructure and to Al-Qaeda's training camps, according to U.S. and British officials.

In London yesterday, Britain's defense minister, Geoffrey Hoon, summed up the damage, which gives a fair indication of how allied air strikes are weakening the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in advance of a ground war.

"We have inflicted damage on Osama bin Laden's organization, particularly its terrorist training camps, and the military infrastructure of the Taliban regime that shelters and protects him. We have also had considerable success in destroying their early-warning and air-defense capabilities."

U.S. President George W. Bush and his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, have been asked repeatedly when a ground war might begin. They have repeatedly declined to answer. But analysts say a ground war will happen, and it will happen soon. One is Kenneth Allard, a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer who rose to the rank of colonel in his military career.

Allard, now a scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy institute, says that to limit the U.S.-led campaign to air strikes would lack military credibility.

"The ultimate -- ultimate -- form of military power is land power, is putting the guy in there with either muddy or dusty boots and a gun. And that is exactly what I think we're going to go do. No one is impressed by cruise missiles, no one is impressed by antiseptic warfare. What you're impressed at more than anything else is what we used to call 'the spirit of the bayonet.'"

Allard told RFE/RL that he expects allied forces will be on the ground quickly because it is important to defeat the Taliban before the first major Afghan snow falls, which will be soon.

According to Allard, the U.S. will probably let insurgent forces like the Northern Alliance finish off the already-weakened Taliban, with the help of allied warplanes. This will leave it up to U.S. and perhaps British special forces to focus their efforts on finding and destroying pockets of Al-Qaeda forces on the ground.

Allard says it is possible to defeat the Taliban quickly, but he said eliminating all traces of bin Laden's terror network could take a long time because of the extremely rugged terrain and the wealth of caves and other hiding places that Afghans have used to their advantage for years.

"We have got to be prepared to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes." Besides time, Allard says, U.S. and allied forces will need accurate intelligence and luck.

Another reason that the campaign against international terrorism will not be short is that bin Laden is not America's only quarry. Repeatedly, Bush and his senior aides have said terrorist organizations -- or governments that harbor them -- should consider themselves targets of the campaign.

As recently as yesterday, Rumsfeld said: "I don't get up in the morning and ask myself where he is. I am interested in the problem of terrorists and terrorist networks and countries that harbor them all across the globe. And if he were gone tomorrow, the Al-Qaeda network would continue functioning essentially as it does today. He is certainly a problem. He is not the problem."

To Allard, that means Iraq is probably the next target of American military action. And he says Syria should act now to make sure it reins in the Hezbollah, or it, too, may face allied forces.

Allard was asked whether Libya also should expect American attention. Libya has long been accused of allowing terrorists to train in its territory. He says the single-mindedness of the U.S. response to the 11 September terror attacks in New York and Washington appear to have frightened Libya's leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

And Allard notes that Libya also seems to have changed its behavior even before these attacks because one of its secret agents was convicted in January of complicity in the 1988 bombing of an American commercial jetliner over Scotland that killed 270 people.

"Some you win by winning [defeating the enemy militarily], some you win by intimidation."

But another analyst interviewed by RFE/RL, Michael O'Hanlon, says he his not so certain that the campaign against terrorism will spread to countries other than Afghanistan. At least, that is not the best course, according to O'Hanlon, a foreign policy and military analyst at the Brookings Institution, another Washington policy center.

"I think that's perhaps the biggest lingering question in this administration. I would strongly counsel against it, at least in terms of military strikes. There may be a role for a targeted military attack against an isolated terrorist organization."

For example, O'Hanlon says the U.S. could probably attack the suspected terrorist group Abu Sayyaf on a remote island in the Philippines without generating much if any resentment within the government in Manila. But he said there are few other places where military action would not be politically counterproductive.

"In the struggle against terrorism, we have to avoid the temptation to feel like we're being tough by dropping a few bombs on a bunch of people, because that will probably hurt us more than it helps us."

O'Hanlon said it would also be a mistake to target the government of Iran, even though it has long been on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. He says any American military action in Iran would only offend the small but growing number of influential Iranians who are trying to improve relations with the West after more than two decades of isolation.

Still, O'Hanlon says he can see no alternative to committing American and other allied ground forces to the war in Afghanistan. And he believes that such a move will have positive results in the campaign against international terrorism -- as long as the campaign does not spread.

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