- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 17, 2001

When a spokesman for the retreating Taliban conceded that a strategic crossroads had fallen to the Afghan opposition, his statement was a tribute to what air power can accomplish in this war:

"For seven days, they [the Americans] have been bombing Taliban positions. They used very large bombs."

Do you think that last observation was a reference to those 15,000-pound daisy-cutters dropped on the poor devils assigned to defend Mazar-e Sharif, the vital road junction that fell to the opposition last week?

Use enough of those babies on entrenched troops, and they ain't gonna be entrenched for long. With that kind of fire raining down, troops may retreat or surrender, but not stay and survive.

That same bleak choice may soon face the Taliban retreating from Kabul. As roads to the interior of the country are opened, it will be easier to supply the advancing opposition from neighboring Uzbekistan.

And as airports are seized and secured, American bombers will be able to shorten their runs and increase the number of sorties they fly. After a month of slowly mounting warfare, the end is not in sight, or even the beginning of the end, but we can hope we've seen the end of the beginning.

This country can bomb other targets continuously, too, and for a lot longer than seven days if that's what it takes to burn out the Taliban. As one American general said when asked how long this campaign would last: "As long as it takes."

The impatient have been demanding that American ground forces be committed to battle on a grand scale. But why rush in when there is already an anti-Taliban force on the ground and advancing as the enemy falters?

The surest index of progress in this war will not be the numbers of enemy killed or captured, but reports of Taliban troops' switching sides. Afghanistan has been invaded by foreigners, all right, but the invasion took place years ago when the Taliban embraced Osama bin Laden, his Arab followers, and assorted fanatics from throughout the Muslim world. Why not let the Afghans themselves throw off their oppressors?

The Pentagon's methodical prosecution of this war continues to impress. The American command isn't just fighting the last war again, which is the usual mistake generals make. This isn't Kosovo or the Gulf. This is a different war against a different enemy in a different part of the world.

In any war, resolve is crucial, and bad ideas numerous. One of the worst is that the United States should halt its bombing campaign for the holy month of Ramadan lest we incur the hatred of the Arab world. But we will be hated in any case. And if we are foolish enough to stop bombing and bombing continuously we will not only be hated but despised. Now is no time to go wobbly. Bombs away.

As this war grinds on, the responsibility for conducting it more and more devolves on the military, which is where it belongs. But now and then, as when bombing pauses are proposed, one can sense the bumbling old Middle East hands at the State Department trying to get in on the act.

It was unnerving to hear the American commander in chief say he didn't want the Northern Alliance, which is rapidly becoming a national Afghan alliance, to take Kabul too swiftly.

Even if George W. Bush and his diplomats have their doubts about ousting the Taliban before the next government of Afghanistan has been agreed upon, the president would do better to keep those doubts to himself.

One can understand why he wouldn't want to turn this war into an ethnic clash between Afghanistan's Pashtuns and the Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras on the side of the Northern Alliance, but why argue with success? Why interfere with the mounting confidence and momentum of our allies on the ground?

Whatever the State Department's concerns about the nature of the next regime in Afghanistan, those concerns shouldn't be allowed to delay the Taliban's ouster. Their defeat is the one prerequisite for a post-Taliban regime. Let's not delay it. Once the Taliban are gone, a brand new government can be formed. And the sooner the enemy is defeated, the more likely that is to happen.

Momentum, and the confidence that comes with it, is important in the conduct of any war, but especially in a war like this in which the aim is not only to defeat the enemy but to encourage defections. That way, fewer battles will have to be fought.

Let's not interfere with that growing sense of momentum. Nothing that hastens the Taliban's collapse should be discouraged. While there is no need to rush, let's not delay victory, either.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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