November  2001

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 US-led Attacks on Afghanistan: What Next?

By Suresh Jaura

September 11, 2001


On a beautiful autumn day in New York, the havoc of war made its most spectacular appearance on the American mainland since the 1860s. New York’s World Trade Center was demolished by two hijacked planes, the third crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth in the countryside – with thousands dead.


Eric Margolis, an expert on Islamic militant groups and the author of “War at the Top of the World,” called the operation “the most complex and sophisticated terrorist attacks ever mounted. They are well beyond the operational capability of any Mideast groups yet seen.”


His list of suspects includes “Mideast groups locked in a bitter, bloody struggle with Israel, which has come to be regarded across the Muslim world as indistinguishable from the U.S.A.” He singles out the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Egyptian Al-Jihad, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular 

Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Japanese Red Army, FARC and bin Laden.


“At first instinct you want to point the finger at Osama bin Laden,” said John Thompson, executive director of the Mackenzie Institute, a Canadian think tank on security issues. “It’s a very well - planned attack, as all of his normally are. It’s extremely damaging in human life, as most of his attacks are intended to be.


“But his network hasn’t been responsible for suicide bombings, except for the rubber boat attack on the American warship in Yemen. I think there’s military-grade planning behind it. This is more sophisticated in terms of the grade of the attack than bin Laden has been up to,” Mr. Thompson said.


An analysis by the publication, Jane’s Intelligence Review, said, “Our concern must be that these attacks are only the start of a far-reaching campaign against the U.S. and its main allies, including Britain and Saudi Arabia.”


“The top suspect, inevitably, must be Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, who is currently harboured by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan,” Jane’s reported. “Given bin Laden’s alleged involvement in previous terrorist outrages, and the fact that his al Qaeda organization is believed to have a wide international base in various Islamic communities throughout the world, it is clear to see why the U.S. and its allies will regard bin Laden as the evil genius behind what must be the world’s worst atrocity in modern history.”


Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newsmagazine, said bin Laden warned three weeks (before the attack) that his followers would carry out an unprecedented and massive attack on U.S. interests for its support of Israel.


“Personally we received information that he planned very, very big attacks against American interests. We received several warnings like this. We did not take it so seriously, preferring to see what would happen before reporting it,” Mr. Atwan said.


Afghanistan’s ruling Taleban government denied that Mr. bin Laden had played any role in the attacks. “Osama is only a person. He does not have the facilities to carry out such activities,” an official said. “We want to tell the American people that Afghanistan feels their pain. We hope that the terrorists are caught and brought to justice.”


In January, United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Afghanistan for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden to face charges of blowing up two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.


After the September 11 attacks, U.S. President Bush demanded that the ruling Taleban government in Afghanistan should hand over bin Laden to them.


The Taleban government demanded proof of bin Laden’s involvement in the terror attacks. “We do not want to fight,” chief Taleban spokesperson told Associated Press, “We will negotiate. But talk to us like a sovereign country. We are not a province of the United States to be issued orders to. We have asked for proof of Osama’s involvement, but they have refused.”


The United States has repeatedly said the demands to surrender bin Laden and his people in the Al Qaeda network are not negotiable.


October 8, 2001


The US-led coalition started bombing Afghanistan to bring down the Taleban government and capture Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” as President Bush put it.


Mindful of the coalition’s Muslim partners’ sensitivities, he had to withdraw his remarks about launching a ‘crusade’… then he called it ‘Operation Infinite Justice’ only to withdraw that, and finally it is called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’.


The bombing of Afghanistan has entered the fourth week. The Pentagon have belatedly realised that Taleban are proving to be “tough opponents” doggedly clinging to power.  That should not have come as a surprise. The Taleban have been fighting for 20 years and had defeated one of the super powers, the Soviet Union, and then their one-time allies, finally controlling over 90% of the country.


The bombing has entered a new phase. The tactics used against the North Vietnamese and the Iraqi army during the Persian Gulf War is being tried out. B-52s are attempting to smash front line positions and sow terror among those under the ground-smashing attacks, officials said.


Asked whether that meant the US was ‘carpet bombing’ as during earlier wars, Pentagon spokesperson, Rear Adm John Stufflebeem, said, “It is possible to release an entire load of bombs at once… which has also been called ‘carpet bombing’. We are applying a concentration of firepower into an area because there are good targets there… Their command and control has been cut, severely degraded. We believe that puts a terrific amount on their military capability.”


Taleban spokesman Amir Khan Muttaqi maintained that the regime would not crack.


“We don’t have anything for the American bombs to destroy,” he said. “We are not a country with a sophisticated computer system, a big, important telecommunication system or modern aviation system to destroy.”


The US has admitted dropping cluster bombs on targets in Afghanistan, provoking an outcry at the use of weapons criticised as unfairly dangerous to civilians.


Human rights groups say a battlefield littered with this type of unexploded ordnance is not different to one booby trapped with land mines, which are banned under an international treaty launched for signature in Canada in 1997.


Landmine Action, based in London, which campaigns against cluster bombs as well as mines has condemned their use in Afghanistan.


"The unexploded bomblets effectively turn into landmines, ready to detonate on contact, causing death and injury to civilians and ground forces", said Richard Lloyd, the campaign group's director.



(Source: BBC


[As per Unicef, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world is Afghanistan. Land mines represent  "an insidious and persistent danger".]


Reacting to appeals from British and international charities to stop their use, Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary, was uncompromising. “We lost somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people in a single day. We are now being threatened with weapons that could kill tens of thousands of people, and we are trying to avoid killing innocent people, but we have to win this war and we will use the weapons we need to win this war,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.


Northern Alliance, which controlled 5-10% of the country before the attacks started, are waiting for the US bombers to clear the way for them to move on to Kabul.


Some Northern Alliance officials said the B-52s are missing their targets. In an interview with the New York Times, at his headquarters just a few kilometers from the frontlines, the Alliance’s deputy Defence Minister, Atiqullah Baryalai, said the American officials planning the campaign appeared to be disregarding the advice of the Afghans who know better.


“Mr Rumsfeld (US Defence Secretary) chooses the targets in America,” Baryalai said. “This is our country. We know it best. If I were the defence minister of America, I could use his weapons better than he.”


Planners had suggested the use of the Northern Alliance as a proxy force backed by special forces operations and a policy of widespread humanitarian aid to win over the “hearts and minds” of the local people (euphemism for people rising against the Taleban and defections amongst the Taleban soldiers) to topple the government.


Until now, the expected Taleban defections have not come to pass to topple the government in Afghanistan. It may eventually happen. Osama bin Laden may be betrayed and either killed or captured. That will signify U.S. victory. But bin Laden will become a ‘martyr’ and eventually win in the eyes of the Muslims.


What Next?


U.S.-lead coalition is preparing for major offensive against Afghanistan. The special forces troops have been operating in Afghanistan for sometime.  The U.S. is sending spy lanes into Afghanistan airspace, which is a clear sign that a major deployment of ground troops could soon follow.


Mr Rumsfeld said President Bush has considered committing ground troops in numbers comparable to the 1991 Gulf War, when hundreds of thousands were deployed. This signals that the idea of a ground invasion, which was originally seen as too dangerous, is being seriously considered.


British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said, “The ultimate objective is to bring those responsible for the events of September 11 to account.


“There is still a possibility of the Taleban accepting that they would give up Osama bin Laden and their support for terrorism.”  Will that be the end of War on Terrorism?


With the public support wavering, as the media lambast the allies for the conduct of the war, no. of civilian casualities mounting and the seeming lack of progress as a result of bombing, the public opinion in the West is getting frustrated.


Having been used to quick victory in the Gulf war the public may not have the appetite for a long drawn out war especially when, with the ground offensive, body-bags start coming home.


What will the U.S. do? The Pentagon has made clear it wants to obliterate the Taleban before moving on to consider other terrorist networks and states around the world.


They have been preparing the public for war on other fronts – other terrorist states, like Iraq (up in the list “to complete the unfinished job” from the Gulf War), Libya, Sudan, Yemen, and may be Syria.


Where will all this lead? Peace? More wars? More attacks? More violence?


Will the leaders of the world, including the Taleban rulers, heed the advice of the 81-year old Pope? He said, “I wish to make an earnest call to everyone, Christians and the followers of other religions, that we work together to build a world without violence, a world that loves life and grows in justice and solidarity… May people everywhere strengthened by divine wisdom, work for a civilization of love, in which there is no room for hatred, discrimination or violence.”