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|October 23, 2001||
The war is on the wrong track
That war or use of military force is a 'means' to achieve a 'political aim' is an age-old wisdom. The declared aim of the war against terrorism was to destroy terrorism and its supporters -- concentrating on the Taleban and the Al Qaeda network in the first phase. It was from this political aim that the military mission was devised that has seen air attacks and commando raids on Afghanistan.
But politics has intervened even more into the military sphere as time has gone by. Diplomacy has been attempting to ensure that this is not seen as a war against Islam (so a bombing pause on Friday, the Muslim holiday). The effort to keep Arab support has translated into increased pressure on Israel to accept a Palestinian state.
Since logistically Pakistan is crucial to the American war effort, the Americans have promised economic and military aid and increased pressure on the J&K issue. But Pakistan has also been demanding a role in the future Afghan government and is also trying its best in trying to save the Taleban by putting forward a theory (with no evidence) that there are indeed 'moderate' Taleban who must have a place in the future set-up.
The pressure on Israel and India, howsoever distasteful to those countries, has had no direct linkage with the course of military operations. But the same cannot be said of the effort to build and keep the coalition intact as well as accommodate the interests of Pakistan in the future set-up in Afghanistan.
The need to not make it look like an attack on Islam has forced restriction on a selection of targets as mosques have become virtual sanctuaries. But even more importantly, due to the need to keep Muslim opinion from getting inflamed, the results of the bombing and devastation brought about have been kept 'hidden' from the general public.
The US has done the extraordinary thing of buying up all commercial satellite images and also virtually blacking out the Al Jazeera channel. Thus it has lost the opportunity of having the psychological effect of 'deterrence'.
Any military man with reasonable analysis can tell you that bombing mountains has very limited utility. It is not the physical but the psychological effect of aerial bombing that is vital for war. Political considerations have thus cramped the military effort.
But even more devastating, the delay in launching initial attacks and now the deliberate attempt not to target the Taleban frontlines (so as not to help the Northern Alliance advance alone to Kabul) may well cost the Americans very dear. Consistent with the time needed to move forces, the initial air attacks on Afghanistan should have been launched at the earliest, within days of the September 11 outrage. There is no evidence to show that the Taleban were deployed in their defences at that time.
If launched within 48 hours, instead of the empty barracks that are now being destroyed, the Americans would have caught most of the Taleban troops and dealt a crushing blow to their capacity to fight back. Now, in order to first cobble up a coalition of Afghan groups that is acceptable to Pakistan, the Americans have given further time to the Taleban to disperse their troops and prepare for a long struggle using the tactics of guerrilla warfare.
India has long experience of this kind of warfare, the latest being in Kargil just two years ago. It is often said that 'mountains eat up divisions'. Well-located troops with the right degree of motivation (which the Taleban have in plenty) can keep a much larger force at bay. Quite often in dealing with the insurgency in J&K, India has used up to a brigade (3000 troops) to deal with small groups, since the aim is to minimise own casualties. This also is the aim of the Americans.
In the fighting in the Northeast 200-500 insurgents have kept close to 3 divisions (30,000 soldiers) busy for close to 20 years! That is the kind of equation needed to counter guerrilla operations! If the Americans do get into that situation, a minimum of 10 divisions or 100,000 troops would be needed over a period of two decades.
It is true that the military aim must derive from the political aim in any war. But when political considerations begin to dictate military tactics and strategy, it is a sure recipe for disaster. We in India faced this in 1962 when Nehru forced down the unviable 'Forward Policy' on the Indian army. The rest, as they say, is history -- India suffered a humiliating defeat in that war.
It is true that in the current phase it is indeed American's war. But like the USA, India -- a victim of terrorism in the past -- is keen to see the success of the current phase of the war against terrorism. One can only hope that better sense will prevail and military logic will be given its due in prosecuting the war.
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