- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

If President Bush ever wonders what is in store for him if things go badly in Afghanistan, all he has to do is look at the front page of the New York Times or The Washington Post, or turn on a talk show on any network but Fox. The liberals are already weaving his shroud, reporting as fact every imaginable misfortune, and attributing them all to him and his administration.

According to the media, our European allies are growing increasingly indifferent. Our friends in the Muslim world are terrified and ready to turn on us in an instant. The Taliban are strengthening again, as recruits pour across the border from Pakistan. The civilian casualties that are inevitable in an air war are turning the whole Muslim world against us. Our supposed refusal to open a ground war is dooming the entire American effort to defeat the Taliban, and critics like the Times' Johnny Apple have already introduced, on page 1, the scarifying word "quagmire" (of Vietnamese memory) to describe any ground war if one begins. Best of all, public opinion polls report small losses of confidence in how the war is going though not (yet) in Bush's sky-high personal ratings.

Of course, all of these poisonous vaporings will vanish like dew in the sun if we prevail in Afghanistan, driving the Taliban from power and sending Osama bin Laden scampering from cave to cave until he is captured or killed. Then we will see the Democratic politicians jostling for position behind Bush in the Rose Garden ceremony to celebrate victory in the war their media lapdogs have done their level best to undermine. Meanwhile, one important question must be answered soon: Will there be should there be a ground war, and if so, what kind?

Actually, there has never been the slightest doubt that there will ultimately have to be American fighters in Afghanistan "boots on the ground," as the saying goes. The notion that war can successfully be conducted from above 15,000 feet, without any American casualties whatever, was one of Bill Clinton's more cowardly political fantasies, and the idea that public opinion required it is a gross libel on the American people. But what kind of fighters, and with what kind of mission? The Taliban would dearly love to see us follow the disastrous Russian example, pouring tens of thousands of soldiers into the mountain passes in the dead of winter, so they could be ambushed by the Taliban from the comparative comfort of their caves. Indeed, they have publicly called for us to commit 100,000 troops to such a suicidal venture.

And it would, in truth, be suicidal. Pressures for such an operation threaten to do far more harm than all the malignant rumors floated by the liberal media put together. But there are other, much more fruitful ways of using American ground forces in Afghanistan.

We have many thousands of fighters specially trained and equipped to bring overwhelming power to bear on specific targets. We have the logistical means to put them down anywhere in Afghanistan that we choose and to bring them safely out again, when their mission has been accomplished.

We could seize a local airfield and use it to land our forces or simply parachute them into the target area. They could kill or capture any relatively small Taliban contingents on the spot, and be gone long before Mullah Mohammed Omar could bring reinforcements across the mountains in the teeth of American air attacks. The Taliban would have to wonder, every day, where the next blow would fall near Kandahar, or in Mazer e-Sharif, or on some rocky redoubt recently known to have harbored Osama bin Laden?

They would have to keep their fighters dashing back and forth around Afghanistan, chasing deadly American forces that would be long gone before they arrived, leaving perhaps only a few land mines and booby-traps as their calling-cards. So: a massive invasion force? No a thousand times no. But deadly ground attacks that slowly make military and political control of Afghanistan impossible? Absolutely.

William Rusher is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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