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Week One: Operation Infinite Disaster
16 October 2001
President Bush's war planners have struggled to find a fitting code name for our latest military venture. But after a week of war, there's only one appropriate label for the nightmare that has transpired: Operation Infinite Disaster.
Leave aside, for the moment, the moral shortcomings and Orwellian implications of bombing starved people to "fight for freedom" or honor the dead of the September 11 tragedy. What's even more striking about the War Against ... Somebody is that, even on the Bush administration's own terms, the bombing of Afghanistan has thus far been a failure -- a series of tactical blunders guaranteed to make a bad situation much, much worse.
A quick inventory of the week's events tell the story:
BOMBING PEOPLE WITH FOOD: The first sign of trouble was news that Bush -- in a move to give the brutal bombings a humanitarian spin -- had opted to drop food supplies along with cluster bombs. This public relations stunt quickly backfired, however, when every major relief agency in the world derided the drops for 1) being insufficient (enough to feed about .5% of the starving population for a single day, provided the rations got to the intended "targets"); 2) containing food Afghan people never eat (hello, peanut butter?!); and 3) having the disadvantage of landing in fields strewn with land mines, adding injury to insult.
HIGH-TECH STRIKES IN A LOW-TECH WORLD: Then came evidence that U.S. bombs are hitting worthless targets -- when they hit at all. This may surprise U.S. readers, who, much like during the Gulf War, have been treated to giddy media reports cooing over the Pentagon's high-tech "smart" weaponry: gee-whiz gadgets like satellite targeting which supposedly make military strikes "surgical" -- and blood-free. (Although, in 1991 the Pentagon admitted that under six percent of Gulf War weapons used "smart" technology -- and even among these brilliant bombs, fully 20% missed their mark.)
The Pentagon says they've gotten better; time -- if not the media -- will tell. But what have these intelligent machines of destruction been hitting? A few terrorist training camps, which, as journalist Robert Fisk noted, our planes had "no difficulty spotting ... because, of course, most of them were built by the CIA when Mr. bin Laden and his men were the good guys."
But overall, the Taliban is a low-tech army -- and bombing their outdated airstrips and archaic phone systems has had little impact on how they control their terrain. And technology is only as good as the fallible humans who use it, which leads to the next mistake:
KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE: "Serious blunders by American warplanes may have killed at least 100 civilians in Afghanistan," according to eye- witness accounts obtained by The Observer of London and reported on Sunday, October 14. (U.S. newspapers have been slow to report evidence of innocent people dying.) These deaths -- in Karam village, 18 miles west of Jalalabad -- came after news of the four workers killed in a U.N. building devoted to clearing land mines.
A total of 400 civilian deaths have been confirmed. Personal testimony from fleeing refugees suggest hundreds more.
What has been the effect of these deaths, besides belying the notion that war can be waged without ending innocent lives? According to The Guardian of London, the Karam killings are straining ties between the U.S. and its shaky allies in the anti-terrorism coalition.
And among the Arab and Muslim populace, the response is predictable: "Reports of between 50 and 150 deaths" the Guardian reports, have "provoked rage and grief throughout Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world."
Which brings us to what the U.S.-led strikes *have* succeeded in doing:
IGNITING AN EXPLOSIVE BACKLASH: I'm not referring to the 30,000 protesters who marched in England against the U.S.-led bombing, the 70,000 who marched in India, the 70,000 who marched in Germany, or similar protests which have filled the streets in "friendly" turf like Italy, Greece, and our own cities.
I'm also not referring to the boomerang response to U.S. bombing in the form of terrorist counter-attacks, which have plunged America into dread fear of powdery envelopes and exposed nuclear reactors.
No, more troubling are the 20,000 students who took over the streets of Egypt yelling "U.S. go to hell!" The Jakarta Muslims threatening to kill U.S. tourists and embassy workers. The millions of Arab- Americans and Muslims who are raging -- violently -- against the U.S. in Jordan, South Africa, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan (brought to the brink of civil war) and Nigeria, where "hundreds" may be dead due to rioting. President Bush's reaction has instilled little confidence. When asked in a press conference last Friday for his response to the vitriolic hatred that has mushroomed around the globe, Bush could only mumble: "I'm amazed. I just can't believe it because I know how good we are" -- which, in the world's eyes, must bring profoundly new meaning to the word "naiveté."
This disheartening string of missteps, feeding an upswell of moral outrage, led everyone's favorite war-watching website -- www.debka.com -- to post this headline over the weekend: "First Week of U.S. Offensive in Afghanistan is Inconclusive Militarily, Earthshaking Geo-Politically."
And for what? To the Pentagon's dismay, Bin Laden hasn't been "flushed out." The Taliban isn't waving a white flag. Our supposed allies, the opium-running North Alliance, seem confused about whether or not they should take over the country. Amidst such chaos, the Bush camp has resorted to the time- tested tactic of creating a diversion, suggesting the blame for September 11 may lay elsewhere -- Iraq (surprise) being the favorite fall guy. This comes just weeks after every media mouthpiece instructed us that "ONLY the resources and skills of Osama bin Laden" and the "al-Quaeda network" could have been responsible.
The U.S. may or may not be able to reverse its miserable military fortunes in Afghanistan. But the more dangerous consequences of the U.S. bombing campaign -- a world aroused into anger against American arrogance, in part the very reason for the September 11 tragedy -- will stay with us for a very long time.