- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

When President Bush admonished the nations of the world to choose sides in the war against terrorism, one nation Britain had already chosen to be with us. Since then, the United Kingdom, and other nations, have made a substantial and highly visible contribution to the Afghanistan campaign. But the key to our long-term success is the help we are getting from nations that insist that their help be concealed. As many as seven "in theater" Muslim countries have helped us, all the while insisting that their help be concealed. But that help, rewarded by our military success, may well provide the foundation for the West's relationship with a post-terrorism Islamic world.
For the Brits, whose armed services have suffered as much as ours from a decade of cutbacks, their commitment to the Afghan campaign was hard to meet. Their equipment is aging, and they hadn't mounted an operation like this requiring a substantial commitment of naval assets since the Falklands War in the early 1980s. Despite the cutbacks and shortages, our most reliable ally has mounted a considerable effort in the war they call "Operation Veritas." When I met with three senior Ministry of Defence spokesmen in London, they led me to a better appreciation of the extent of the United Kingdom's effort.
The Brits' deployment was made by what we would consider a carrier battle group, led by HMS Illustrious. A submarine, a destroyer and several auxiliary ships made up the fleet. More than 4,200 British soldiers and sailors are deployed, including about 200 members of "40 Commando," a Royal Marine special forces unit (much like our Navy SEALs, meaning as good as any in the world). Add to that about 14 aircraft, including Canberra reconnaissance aircraft, VC-10 tankers, C-130 transports and E-3 AWACS airborne command and control aircraft. In all, this is no small effort.
More than just acting as our airborne Exxon stations, the British took on other important missions as well. Though the Ministry of Defence spokesmen were firm in refusing to say anything about British special operations forces, reports have filtered out about what these forces are up to. It is safe to say that British special forces along with our own are at the point of the spear now doing the very dangerous job of cleaning up the last pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Even more, the U.K. commitment to the peacekeeping force fills a vacuum that would otherwise occupy American forces needed to pursue and destroy the al Qaeda wherever they are next found. The reductions in U.S. military capabilities through the Clinton years were dramatic. Recent unconfirmed reports of the beginning of operations in the Philippines, Somalia and other countries, the value of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth contributions is multiplied many times over.
During the Afghan air campaign, the Brits took on much of the aerial refueling duties to support our Navy and Air Force warplanes. This was a huge task because our fighter, bomber and attack aircraft had to refuel two or three times on a single sortie. Because dozens of sorties were flown each day, this refueling task was enormous. While our tanker pilots worked exceedingly hard, we simply could not have mounted an air campaign as overwhelming as we did without the Brits. (My RAF contacts took some pleasure in pointing out that the RAF tankers are much more popular with our Navy pilots than US Air Force tankers. Seems that the RAF equipment fits our Navy aircraft better than our Air Force equipment does. It seems that interservice rivalries know no borders.)
How the refueling task was done is much more interesting than how big it was. The Ministry of Defence spokesmen indicated that some in-theater nations obviously, one or more Muslim nations near Afghanistan have permitted British tanker aircraft to fly from their airfields in direct support of our combat missions. From other reports, it appears that six or seven Muslim countries were and are cooperating. Some let U.S. Marines move supplies and equipment ashore in the dark of night. Those nations made it possible for the Marines to operate deep in Afghanistan, at unheard-of distances from normal supply lines. All these host nations required was that the Marines cleared the area by daylight. The new base being established in Krgystan is a welcome public face to part of this already-substantial cooperation.
This quiet support is contrary to many of those same nations' public refusal to support the war. Pundits who spend so much time worrying about the anti-Americanism of the "Arab street" should ponder this for a while. These nations who may, for a time, want to appear to be uncooperative to quell internal dissent, know very well that only we stand between them and the fate that befell the Shah of Iran in 1979. What they do is more important than what they say. And their actions now will position them to be the future of the Middle East and South Asia, unlike the Saudis and their ilk, who are the past.
Each time America and its allies destroy another terrorist-host regime or al Qaeda look-alike group, we pave the way for success of the moderate Arabs throughout the region. The support of these in-theater countries proves that nothing but our success can give them the courage to resist internal pressures from the fundamentalists. Even in South Asia and the Middle East, people can usually be counted on to act in their own self-interest. For those regional governments that do not support terrorism or like Pakistan, may wish to back away from it the war presents a great opportunity to help secure their own futures. Whether they do so in sunshine or shadow means very little. But those shadow allies of today can be the basis for a lasting peace in the area. Peace is about winners and losers, not processes. Certainty in our victory is the best foundation for our shadow allies to build their own future.

Jed Babbin is a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the prior Bush administration.

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