- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

The bombing war against the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorist forces in Afghanistan is not moving as fast as the armchair generals in the news media and in Congress would like.
We have become so accustomed to relatively quick conflicts in the past decade or so, as in the Persian Gulf War and in Belgrade, that three to four weeks of bombing and covert military ground actions with no major military victories has stretched the patience of the talking-head critics on television.
I think Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's instincts are right on target when he said that Americans are far more patient about the long-term requirements of this war against terrorism than the news media give them credit for. They know that this is not going to be over in a few weeks, months or even years.
They also know that the best way to secure our long-term safety from future terrorist attacks is to maintain a steady, relentless, unforgiving military offensive that slowly but surely bleeds the enemy into submission and defeat.
The Taliban guerrillas and Osama bin Laden's terrorist armies know something about patience in the art of war.
They have been training and planning their attacks on the United States for many years. When under attack themselves, they know how to defensively hunker down for the long haul, and how to turn Afghanistan's bitter winters, impenetrable mountain terrain, tunnels and caves to their advantage. For them, this is a war that can go on for generations.
The Taliban defeated the well-trained Soviet army in the 1980s, not by being impatient or staging a succession of quick, major advances, but through a succession of small, deadly attacks that wore down the Russians over time. They believe that they can beat the allied forces in the same way.
The media consensus is that the war has turned into a stalemate. We hear a lot from our news media about civilian casualties, but very little about Taliban casualties.
A Northern Alliance official said this Monday that the bombing of Mazar-e Sharif in the north by U.S. planes killed 29 Taliban soldiers. A large but undetermined number of Taliban and al Qaeda forces, hiding out in hundreds of mountain caves, have been the targets of U.S. strikes using 2,000-pound bunker-penetrating bombs that destroy or at least seal off the entrances to the caves and tunnels. That procedure is going to take a long time.
Are these strikes destroying the enemy? "There's no question that the Taliban and al Qaeda military have been killed," Mr. Rumsfeld says. "Are their leaders mixed in there? Yes. At what level? Who knows?"
As he did in the U.S. war in Belgrade, Sen. John McCain of Arizona is calling for a massive ground invasion to achieve a quick victory. In an opinion column this Monday in The Wall Street Journal, titled "There Is No Substitute for Victory," Mr. McCain argues that it will take significant numbers of ground troops to win this war. The sooner we send them in, the faster it will be over.
But a major ground assault at this time would be disastrous. It would mean asking U.S. forces to chase Taliban forces into the mountains, where we would be fighting yet another guerrilla war of attrition, with endless hit-and-run strikes.
A far better strategy is to take a page out of Ronald Reagan's playbook in the war against Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s. And that is to move more aggressively to equip, arm and support the Northern Alliance freedom fighters. These are soldiers who beat the Soviets. They can beat the Taliban and bin Laden, if we give them the full support they need to do the job.
But rebel Alliance leaders are complaining that, despite a lot of talk from the U.S. military, they have not been given the weapons and ammunition needed to destroy the Taliban forces.
"The Taliban have the weapons. They have aid from other countries, but we have no help," an Alliance general's aide told The Washington Post. "We hear that there is help being provided, but we get no food or ammunition. In this case, certainly, we cannot win."
"What we need is only bullets for our machine guns. If we had weapons, we could succeed. We have contact with the Americans. They talk a lot. But we don't see the result," he said.
Another Alliance official said that the only reason the anti-Taliban forces can't move faster is that they have no ammunition."
Before we even begin to think about massive ground campaigns, we need to arm the Northern Alliance and back up their offensives against Taliban-held positions with close-in, heavy airfire and anything else that we can throw at them.
In the meantime, let's not fool ourselves or become impatient. When the history of America's war against terrorism is written, it will be known as "The Longest War."

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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