Gallery I

Digging Out The Enemy

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Contemporary War Can No Longer Avoid Civilian Casualties

By James Donahue

Our military forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Pakistan and Yemen are under criticism because of aerial bombing attacks targeting known hide-outs of Al Qaeda forces. That is because the Al Qaeda guerrilla fighters are operating from homes and villages where civilians also live.

That is the great dilemma facing U.S. forces today, just as it did during our adventures in Vietnam some 40 years ago. The enemy is virtually invisible. The guerrilla solders live with families and neighbors who may or may not be sympathetic to their cause. They store weapons and ammunition in secret places. They dress in traditional native garb. They attack unexpectedly and with great stealth, often with sophisticated mines planted in roadways used by military vehicles and then withdraw.

They also brainwash and train recruits to be suicide bombers, either carrying a payload strapped on their bodies into crowded places, or driving vehicles filled with explosives into targeted buildings and crowds.

It is not the kind of warfare our military leaders were taught to combat at West Point. In fact our fighting forces are equipped with the most advanced and sophisticated war machines ever devised by man. We have the ability to use computerized drones that deliver bombs to satellite guided targets with pinpoint accuracy. And we are doing that.

The problem is – we can’t always distinguish the enemy soldier from an innocent farm worker. They dress alike. They pray together in the mosques. They live in the same villages and farms. The difference may be only in their mindset, and the fact that one man might suddenly produce a weapon from his clothing and attack while the other might befriend, or at least be indifferent to the advance of an American soldier.

This is why our bombing campaign against key Al Qaeda operatives usually always kills people who may be innocent civilians, including women and children, who happened to be too close to the target. The degree of innocence might be argued. During the Vietnam campaign, for example, village women and sometimes even the children suddenly attacked American soldiers without warning. That they are living in the same buildings with Al Qaeda soldiers, and acting as a form of camouflage, means these civilians probably aren’t innocent at all.

It was this kind of warfare that made Vietnam an impossible dilemma for American forces. And the same kind of guerrilla strategy is why great armies of the past failed to win in Afghanistan, and why experienced military advisors are warning that it is a mistake for President Obama to try to win. Even 100,000 highly trained soldiers with the latest technical fighting equipment will not defeat an invisible foe.

The best strategy yet devised appears to be the type of campaign that the Obama Administration and his military advisors are trying now. They are attacking Al Qaeda everywhere, where they can be found. And that takes a lot of very sophisticated work.

Yet the great challenge for the United States (and the world), is how to reign in the Al Qaeda. These fighters are extremists within the Islamic world who appear to wish to spread their fanaticism throughout the world. They claim responsibility for the 9-11 attack on America, and a multitude of similar bomb attacks in England, Pakistan, Yemen, and other parts of the world.

Al Qaeda has no national allegiance, so it was wrong of former President George W. Bush to attack Afghanistan because the plot to attack the United States was reportedly hatched by an Al Qaeda group hiding out in an Afghan mosque. While we are not experts in warfare, we believe Mr. Obama made a serious error in trusting his military advisors and escalating troop levels in Afghanistan. All we have done there is turn another radical Afghan sect, the Taliban, into yet a second terrorist group of guerrilla fighters, thus complicating the problem.

Obama’s new strategy, however, of using military advisors and drones to seek out and attack Al Qaeda forces in the places where they are known to be living and operating, in countries where we have not declared war, is a better idea. If Mr. Bush had used similar tactics when he went after Al Qaeda in 2001, he might have succeeded in stopping the band of radicals hiding out in the mountains of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan without great cost.

The irony is that the Al Qaeda guerrillas were a CIA project that was established with the help of Osama bin Laden in about 1988 to help Afghan resistance defeat the Soviet Union. Special Forces helped finance, recruit, and train thousands of fighters from dozens of countries to get involved in that campaign.

The strategy worked, the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan, but the monster we created now is spreading with operations established in various places around the world. The organization’s goal is to establish a pan-Islamic Caliphate that overthrows non-Islamic governments, expels Westerners and non-Muslims from Muslim countries, and continue its “holy war” until they have forcefully established what they believe is a “rule of God on Earth.”

The objective also is to purify the Islamic world from the elements of depravity. In other words, they seek to force their own brand of extremism on all people.

Sadly, if we cannot reason with them, it is going to take extreme measures to stop the evil thing we created.