September 4, 2009

Did Long Range Strikes Actually Cause the Problem?

Joshua Forst of Registan.net raises that exact question now that there are those that are floating the idea that we could rely upon long-distance strikes and special forces to handle the war in Afghanistan if the US would significantly reduce their presence in the region. To support that assumption he cites this report by The National Security Archive: 1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired

Washington D.C., August 20, 2008 - On the tenth anniversary of U.S. cruise missile strikes against al-Qaeda in response to deadly terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, newly-declassified government documents posted today by the National Security Archive (http://www.nsarchive.org/) suggest the strikes not only failed to hurt Osama bin Laden but ultimately may have brought al-Qaeda and the Taliban closer politically and ideologically.

A 400-page Sandia National Laboratories report on bin Laden, compiled in 1999, includes a warning about political damage for the U.S. from bombing two impoverished states without regard for international agreement, since such action "mirror imag[ed] aspects of al-Qaeda's own attacks" [see pp. 18-22]. A State Department cable argues that although the August missile strikes were designed to provide the Taliban with overwhelming reason to surrender bin Laden, the military action may have sharpened Afghan animosity towards Washington and even strengthened the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance.

Following the August 20 U.S. air attacks, Taliban spokesman Wakil Ahmed told U.S. Department of State officials "If Kandahar could have retaliated with similar strikes against Washington, it would have." Such an attack, although unfeasible at the time, was at least in part actualized by al-Qaeda on 9/11.

Following the 1998 embassy bombings, the U.S. sought to extradite bin Laden to Saudi Arabia or possibly Egypt, but failed to get bin Laden out of Afghanistan because, at least according to the U.S. Department of State, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were unable or unwilling to apply enough pressure to coerce Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Omar to surrender bin Laden.

The lengthy Sandia report, compiled by Dr. Gary W. Richter and obtained by National Security Archive Middle East Analyst Joyce Battle, synthesizes an impressive volume of public-source information available on bin Laden into a coherent summary of the al-Qaeda terrorist threat following the August embassy bombings. The report concludes that the bombings did not take U.S. intelligence and diplomatic services by surprise, as the U.S. in 1998 had capable counterterrorism intelligence gathering and interdiction capabilities. However, according to the report, in retrospect, the August 20 retaliatory cruise missile strikes may have caused long-term political harm to U.S. national security and counterterrorism interests [see pp. 18-22]. The report contains extensive timelines, biographies and issue summaries and is useful for researchers interesting in the evolution of al-Qaeda and the American response.
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UPDATE:
Uncle Jimbo reply's to Mr. Will: George Will- We can lose both these wars

Again we are treated to the musings of noted national security expert George Will on the art of the retreat. Oh wait, what's that you say? Will is not a national security or military expert? He is a political commentator who dabbles in baseball? Hmmm, that's curious because this poorly reasoned drivel is printed under his byline.

I'm curious when you picked this arbitrary point for departure, or when you decide that doddering, contrarian war nay-sayer was a good role for you? You seem to be attempting to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I have a suggestion for you George, I know you are enjoying all the adulation for your moral courage in standing up for the cause of defeat in two wars, but really STFU and go back to the ball park.

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