- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

It's time. The air campaign in Afghanistan now has succeeded with a speed and effectiveness that the armchair critics never anticipated. The enemy has been driven into isolated redoubts that already are beginning to crumble. Soon its conventional forces will have been reduced to guerrilla bands seeking to melt into the hinterlands and fight from ambush. American forces are needed for the ground war. And the Marines have landed. In the end, even 500-pound bombs and fiery daisy cutters can only do so much.
Not just special forces and CIA operatives but U.S. infantry and armor will have to close the net. One dreads the casualties even while recognizing that at some point this war at close quarters was inevitable, and this is the point. Everything about war changes except the grim horror of it. And now comes the endgame, which can be the most frustrating and unpredictable of all war's phases. And it may not even be the end if the enemy manages to escape.
This country's armed forces, who have done such a superb job in support of our Afghan allies, now face a different kind of war. It's the kind of war this country would have prosecuted if the decision had been made to move deep into Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf war in 1991 instead of settling for the liberation of Kuwait.
It will be a war without fixed lines, for this country's military is not about to repeat the mistake the Soviets made in Afghanistan, and fight a conventional war against an unconventional enemy.
Instead this will be a hit-and-run war against holdouts and bushwhackers. It is the Americans who will fight as guerrillas now. The first brigade of Marines is arriving to join the special forces and CIA operatives who have been on the ground for some time. All will be operating in that twilight between liberation and anarchy as a fleeing tyrant seeks to reorganize.
Nor is it only the enemy that will have to regroup and rethink its strategy. For nothing disorganizes an army like victory. As the Taliban melts into the mountains, it will be succeeded in Afghanistan by a loose confederation of warlords still far from a generally recognized government. Operating in this political no-man's land, U.S. forces will be going after the bitter-enders who have vowed to fight to the death. Which will have to be arranged in the most efficient way.
This war may be all but over, but the enemy may not know that. Remember World War II and the Japanese who fought from caves on remote islands in the Pacific long after the main action had passed them by? This kamikaze enemy will also remain dangerous till hunted down and burned out. The more fanatical will fight on even after surrendering and being put in prison camps, as the Northern Alliance has just learned. We had best be prepared for madness, for this is a war that began with a murderous act of madness.
The use of air power is far from exhausted, but now it will have to be employed in support of American as well as Afghan troops on the ground. Mopping-up, it's called a simple term for a process that is anything but simple.
Far from the battle but just as crucial will be the diplomats, who long feared victory because it would bring the disorganization that is now fast upon both friend and foe. The striped-pants brigade will be called on to give Afghanistan a government in place of its present patchwork of warlords.
If the State Department does its job as well as America's military has, the Afghan people may find security at last. But this country is famous for winning wars and losing the peace. Not just the generals but the diplomats will need to be wary in this war's final stage. If it is not fought on all fronts, military and diplomatic, it may not prove final at all.
From the first of this conflict, the United States has employed an almost secret weapon so rare in this country that it seems to come to the fore only in crisis. That weapon is the extraordinary patience of the American people, who have remained calm and confident while the politicians and the punditry emitted their usual high-pitched noises. Some wailed with despair. (We are entering a quagmire.) Others demanded that our leaders mount their charges and ride off in all directions. (Their favorite suggestion was a massive, conventional ground war in Asia a la Korea and Vietnam.) Through it all, the American people have stood fast. We all became New Yorkers. And carried on.
But as victory emerges, the old partisanship will re-emerge, too. Even now it's no challenge to collect the same old silly, self-absorbed statements from the usual politicians and pundits on both ends of the political spectrum. But all the carping is scarcely noticeable because it seems to have had so little effect on a calm yet implacable people.
We are so used to criticizing ourselves, a good and useful habit in a free country, that we may forget to celebrate ourselves when we need to. Like now. For here is a free and diverse people acting as one. As in E Pluribus Unum. Here is a people that, struck by mass murderers, has proceeded to mourn its dead and comfort the living, reorganize its thoughts and priorities, and rediscover its real heroes its firefighters and police and armed forces and resolute leaders.
This new-old America has changed considerably and yet not changed at all. It has changed the way a great people changes when it wakes up from trivial pursuits and calmly, confidently begins to find its bearings, correct its mistakes and keep its eye on the goal: victory.
So that now, whenever one hears the same old pre-war politics from the same old pre-war chattering class, it is like watching a company of the same old actors repeating a script that hasn't changed a bit to an audience that has changed completely and has more important things to do just now. The good sense of the American people, like the heroism of our sons and daughters, puts all into proportion.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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