The U.S. War, Five Years On (Part 1)

The U.S. War, Five Years On (Part 1)
September 12th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: The U.S. War, Five Years On (Part 1)

The U.S. War, Five Years On (Part 1)
It has been five years since the Sept. 11 attacks. In thinking
about the course of the war against al Qaeda, two facts emerge

The first is that the war has succeeded far better than anyone
would have thought on Sept. 12, 2001. We remember that day clearly,
and had anyone told us that there would be no more al Qaeda attacks
in the United States for at least five years, we would have been
incredulous. Yet there have been no attacks.

The second fact is that the U.S. intervention in the Islamic world
has not achieved its operational goals. There are multiple
insurgencies under way in Iraq, and the United States does not
appear to have sufficient force or strategic intent to suppress
them. In Afghanistan, the Taliban has re-emerged as a powerful
fighting force. It is possible that the relatively small coalition
force -- a force much smaller than that fielded by the defeated
Soviets in Afghanistan -- can hold it at bay, but clearly coalition
troops cannot annihilate it.

A Strategic Response

The strategic goal of the United States on Sept. 12, 2001, was to
prevent any further attacks within the United States. Al Qaeda,
defined as the original entity that orchestrated the 1998 attacks
against the U.S. embassies in Africa, the USS Cole strike and 9/11,
has been thrown into disarray and has been unable to mount a
follow-on attack without being detected and disrupted. Other
groups, loosely linked to al Qaeda or linked only by name or shared
ideology, have carried out attacks, but none have been as daring
and successful as 9/11.

In response to 9/11, the United States resorted to direct overt and
covert intervention throughout the Islamic world. With the first
intervention, in Afghanistan, the United States and coalition
forces disrupted al Qaeda's base of operations, destabilized the
group and forced it on the defensive. Here also, the stage was set
for a long guerrilla war that the United States cannot win with the
forces available.

The invasion of Iraq, however incoherent the Bush administration's
explanation of it might be, achieved two things. First, it
convinced Saudi Arabia of the seriousness of American resolve and
caused the Saudis to become much more aggressive in cooperating
with U.S. intelligence. Second, it allowed the United States to
occupy the most strategic ground in the Middle East -- bordering on
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Iran. From here, the United
States was able to pose overt threats and to stage covert
operations against al Qaeda. Yet by invading Iraq, the United
States also set the stage for the current military crisis.

The U.S. strategy was to disrupt al Qaeda in three ways:

1. Bring the intelligence services of Muslim states -- through
persuasion, intimidation or coercion -- to provide intelligence
that was available only to them on al Qaeda's operations.

2. By invading Afghanistan and Iraq, use main force to disrupt al
Qaeda and to intimidate and coerce Islamic states. In other words,
use Operation 2 to achieve Operation 1.

3. Use the intelligence gained by these methods to conduct a range
of covert operations throughout the world, including in the United
States itself, to disrupt al Qaeda operations.

The problem, however, was this. The means used to compel
cooperation with the intelligence services in countries such as
Pakistan or Saudi Arabia involved actions that, while successful in
the immediate intent, left U.S. forces exposed on a battleground
where the correlation of forces, over time, ceased to favor the
United States. In other words, while the invasions of Afghanistan
and Iraq did achieve their immediate ends and did result in
effective action against al Qaeda, the outcome was to expose the
U.S. forces to exhausting counterinsurgency that they were not
configured to win.

Hindsight: The Search for an Ideal Strategy

The ideal outcome likely would have been to carry out the first and
third operations without the second. As many would argue, an
acceptable outcome would have been to carry out the Afghanistan
operation without going into Iraq. This is the crux of the debate
that has been raging since the Iraq invasion and that really began
earlier, during the Afghan war, albeit in muted form. On the one
side, the argument is that by invading Muslim countries, the United
States has played into al Qaeda's hands and actually contributed to
radicalization among Islamists -- and that by refraining from
invasion, the Americans would have reduced the threat posed by al
Qaeda. On the other side, the argument has been made that without
these two invasions -- the one for direct tactical reasons, the
other for psychological and political reasons -- al Qaeda would be
able to operate securely and without effective interference from
U.S. intelligence and that, therefore, these invasions were the
price to be paid.

There are three models, then, that have been proposed as ideals:

1. The United States should have invaded neither Afghanistan nor
Iraq, but instead should have relied entirely on covert measures
(with various levels of restraint suggested) to defeat al Qaeda.

2. The United States should have invaded Afghanistan to drive out
al Qaeda and disrupt the organization, but should not have invaded

3. The United States needed to invade both Iraq and Afghanistan --
the former for strategic reasons and to intimidate key players, the
latter to disrupt al Qaeda operations and its home base.

It is interesting to pause and consider that the argument is rarely
this clear-cut. Those arguing for Option 1 rarely explain how U.S.
covert operations would be carried out, and frequently oppose those
operations as well. Those who make the second argument fail to
explain how, given that the command cell of al Qaeda had escaped
Afghanistan, the United States would continue the war -- or more
precisely, where the Americans would get the intelligence to fight
a covert war. Those who argue for the third course -- the Bush
administration -- rarely explain precisely what the strategic
purpose of the war was.

In fact, 9/11 created a logic that drove the U.S. responses. Before
any covert war could be launched, al Qaeda's operational structure
had to be disrupted -- at the very least, to buy time before
another attack. Therefore, an attack in Afghanistan had to come
first (and did, commencing about a month after 9/11). Calling this
an invasion, of course, would be an error: The United States
borrowed forces from Russian and Iranian allies in Afghanistan --
and that, coupled with U.S. air power, forced the Taliban out of
the cities to disperse, regroup and restart the war later.

Similar Topics
Was Lee Whi-So killed by the U.S Government?
Al-Qaida gains strength in Sunni heartland as U.S. focuses on Baghdad
U.S. top commander says Iraq civil war "certainly possible"
Funny Fact
Chinese Military Doctrine