The U.S. Military Campaign in Afghanistan

Part II: The Ends

Note: These nodes were in preparation several days before the U.S.-led air campaign began on October 6th. As a result, several of my assumptions and conclusions are fairly dramatically out of whack with reality. I offer them in their original form, however, as an example of a 'back of the envelope' study of a warfighting problem.

-The Custodian

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Any formulation of a strategy requires the satisfaction of one basic, fundamental requirement: The definition of a goal or set of goals. What point is there in acting if you don't know what your preferred result is? This is not to say that the world's final state must be exhaustively laid out in advance, which can hamper later action; rather, a clearly defined set of criteria that can be tested against well-defined conditions will suffice. For example, in the Second World War, Britain's initial goal was to resist the German occupation of the continent, but more importantly, to defend her sovereign territory from unwanted intrusion. While the war may have changed her final goals, refining them, really, the basic reason the British military fought the beginning of that War was to resist the occupation of their country by another.

This is much more difficult than it sounds. Conditions which sound quite reasonable at first blush may turn out to be much more nebulous (or not nearly as satisfying) when it's too late to change them. In the Gulf War, it became clear as the ground war drew to a close that apparently the ouster of Saddam Hussein had been an unstated goal of the American administration. Perhaps not that specifically; it may even have never gotten past the notion of 'deal with this problem in the Gulf' in the minds of policymakers.

Publicly, however, President Bush and his associates had denied this all along, stating that the liberation of Kuwait was the only goal. When thisstated goal was achieved, the continued pursuit of the unstated goal became tenuous at best and impossible at worst.

Nations and policy makers are not always able to formulate goals very specifically; however, in most cases where they are successful in doing so at the outset, their initial shape has not been later contradicted by any modifications or refinements made. This is a natural consequence of coping with a fluid situation; as the world is fond of reminding us (and so is Mick), 'you can't always get what you want.'

Typically, though, the degree of threat faced by a person or nation will dictate the degree of refinement necessary in or of their goal(s) before action is taken. Self-defense is a goal, and typically the easiest to reconcile with world affairs. No well-managed military, facing a concerted attack, needs to wait for policy makers to formulate their desired conditions for after the oncoming war; rather, they will accept 'self-defense' as a goal and move to defend themselves and their charges.

In the particular case of 'America's New War' (as CNN seems wont to call it) the goals are not clear. The implicit goal of "prevent anything like this from happening again" is too broad and impossible a task; no-one really seems to disagree with this. At this point, the goal becomes less clear. Are we trying to increase the difficulties faced by terrorists when attempting this? Are we attempting to detain, try and punish those responsible? Are we intending to destabilize and rebuild the government of Afghanistan, or do we simply care whether or not we get bin Laden? Will 'getting' bin Laden 'solve' the problems, or will we need to get him, his associates, his money, all their bases, their weapons and so on? While simply getting him may be the most likely outcome, the U.S. policy elite is telling us in fairly certain terms that that will definitely not be the end of it. They intend to go after other persons, groups, resources, bases, and the like. What, then, is the goal? Make training and recruiting terrorists impossible? That itself seems impossible to achieve. Make Afghanistan, a known haven, unusable to terrorist organizations, thus reducing the threat? That actually sounds much more like a coherent goal; however, the administration won't even talk about the problem in these terms.

They seem to forget that the converse of authority is responsibility. Responsibility does not just mean duty, as they seem to think; of course, it means duty to protect your citizens and your shores. However, it also means that you are charged with other tasks as well; maintaining and defending the Constitution of the United States seems to ring a bell with me. Didn't some of them swear that oath? Against all threats internal and external? We have an external threat, although how credible a threat to the constitution it is by itself is questionable. Without a concerted military campaign to tear up the American society and people, terrorists can at best utilize our own fears and uncertainties to manipulate us into doing this gargantuan task for them. For further reading, carefully read any of the large stack of initiatives Ashcroft is pressuring Congress to pass.

So what, Mr. Bush, are the goals here?

Some that I would propose as reasonable include:

  • The capture and removal to the U.S. of Osama bin Laden and whomsoever else can be shown to have been involved in the conspiracies to carry out the September 11 attacks as well as those on the U.S.S. Cole and the Khobar Towers, there to face trial.
  • The verified dismantling/destruction of all paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan
  • The positive declaration by those nations shown to have been involved passively (as Pakistan) or actively (as Afghanistan) that they will not permit this to reoccur and that they understand the consequences that we will bring down on them if they do
  • The removal from the picture of the Taliban 'government.' They have shown themselves unwilling to interact with the other nations of the world on the basis of accepted practices and law; therefore, we should not suffer them any longer.
  • The improvement of the lot of the Afghan peoples. This is more debatable, but I would argue that it is essential to the defense of America; the men found to carry out these horrific acts were in many cases products of the Intifadah; given reason since birth to hate and merely needing a target. A fringe of fundamentalist zealots has proved more than willing to harness that sort of hatred for their own purposes.
These are not hard and fast. I would actually have no problem with specifying the verified death or capture of bin Laden and company; however,the emphasis should be on their capture; ideally to preserve our beliefs about guilt, innocence and trials, but even if for no reason other than interrogation.

The U.S. Government may, in fact, have a set of goals such as this in place. However, the worrying part is that if they do, they (to date) haven't discussed them in detail. While some might argue the part of operational security, I would point out that this debate is perhaps the most critical of all- namely, what are we to do and why? Without knowing what our government is planning to do - even in generalities - means that we cannot muster discourse, debate or action to modify those policies if they turn out to not represent the popular will.


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