Afghanistan: the problem with military action

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers
28 September 2001

The United States and its allies are planning a military assault against those it deems responsible for the attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington. Before it does so, a number of points deserve to be made:

  • the group responsible has engaged in detailed planning over many months and has substantial numbers of supporters with total dedication to its aims
  • the group should be assumed to be operating in the context of a long-term strategy, and it should be assumed to have the near-term capability for further attacks, either using hijacking or some other method(s) with equivalent or greater effect
  • the aims of the attacks were to have an immediate and lasting effect on US financial military and political centres, and to deliberately incite a massive US military response
  • the group will have prepared for the latter and will have dispersed its assets and key personnel. From its perspective, the most desirable US response would be widespread military action against training, logistical and other anti-US paramilitary facilities in several countries, together with direct attacks against the Kabul regime and possibly Iraq
  • if the US takes any such action it will be precisely what the group wants - indeed the stronger the action the better. In its view, such action will serve to:
    a) weaken the strong pro-US international coalition
    b) weaken the position of the more moderate elements of the Kabul regime
    c) above all, enable the group to recruit more support.
  • the group should also be expected to respond to such action with further paramilitary attacks in the US or against transnational US interests or its allies. It should be anticipated that such a response would be at least as devastating as the recent attacks. It is less likely to stage immediate attacks in the absence of such a major US military response, as these would further isolate it
  • thus, vigorous military action by the US, on its own or in coalition, will be counterproductive, whatever the intense and understandable domestic pressures for such action.
  • the extent of the devastation and human suffering inflicted in the attacks means that support for the United States among its allies is far-reaching, and extends to a remarkable range of states
  • in this light, the immediate response should be to:
    a) develop, extend and cement this coalition
    b) base all actions on the rule of law
    c) put every effort into bringing the perpetrators to justice.
  • the longer-term response should be to:
    a) greatly improve intelligence and cooperation
    b) substantially strengthen international anti-terrorism agreements
    c) analyse, understand and then seek to reduce the bitter and deep-seated antagonism to the United States in southwest Asia and the middle east from which these actions and groups have arisen.
  • the group responsible welcomes and seeks military confrontation. It is far more fearful of being brought to trial, a process that is likely to weaken it, both in the near and long term, than direct military action.
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