The British Are Coming- On Septermber 23rd, British newspapers reported that British commandoes (SAS) were already in Afghanistan and were keeping an eye on Osama Bin Laden. Unlike the American intelligence and commando forces, the Brits do not have to work under a long list of things they cannot do. They are told to accomplish a mission, and go out and do it. The SAS and commandoes are used sparingly, as are agents from MI-6 (British intelligence.) But the Brits have apparently had people inside Afghanistan since 1999. The British 3rd Commando brigade was recently reported in the Persian Gulf (along with several Royal Navy warships and part of the British 1st Armored division.) If the CIA has had anyone inside in that time, no one is saying. The CIA and MI-6 have long cooperated closely, so anything is possible (like the CIA supporting operations that are legal for MI-6, but not for the CIA.)
Actually, its getting a little crowded in Afghanistan, as Pakistani SSG Military Commandos have moved in during the past year to disrupt drug and weapons smuggling. Pakistan has become increasingly annoyed at the Afghan tribes violence (bombings and shootings) in the Pakistan border areas. Things may become more frantic still if the rewards on Osama Bin Laden get any higher. Currently standing at some $30 million, some terrorism experts feel that if the number goes beyond $50 million, a number of private, and government, military organizations might join the chase.
Bin Laden is probably more afraid of British and Pakistani commandoes, and foreign mercenaries, than he is of US troops. For over twenty years, America has responded feebly to terrorism attacks. When Iranian students seized the US embassy and its staff in 1979, the US response was a botched commando raid and a lot of brave words. The hostages were finally released after Ronald Reagan became president, and a substantial (and little discussed) ransom was paid. America has long been seen as weak and without courage. We prefer to go after terrorists as the criminals they are, arresting, trying and imprisoning them. We finally got this approach working in the 1990s, but before that we were a laughing stock. A little terrorism, or violence of any kind, was seen as an easy way to get rid of the Americans. It worked in 1983, when a suicide bomber killed over 200 Marines in Beirut. While the world was suitably impressed with American performance in the 1991 Gulf War, it was also impossible not to miss the US withdrawal from Somalia in 1993. Their, local warlords took on US Rangers. Over 500 Somalis died, only 18 Americans did. That night, the Rangers were getting ready to go back in and finish the job. The Somalis were looking for a way out, or how to pronounce I surrender. But then the Somalis heard that the US media had declared the battle a Somali victory. Eighteen American dead was too much, even if the enemy lost 30 times as many.
Things went downhill from there. The FBI was given more money to hunt down and capture terrorists, but the CIA was told that had to now provide background checks of informants to make sure that no Americans were getting their hands dirty dealing with criminals or human rights abusers. Care was taken to not enter foreign nations known to harbor terrorists, while stepping up efforts to get the UN to approve sanctions for naughty nations. But forcing such rogue states to do something about their support of terror was seen as a sanction too far.
Terrorists believe, rightly or wrongly, that Americans have no stomach for a tough fight. Kill enough of them, and they will depart. Let them have enough time and they will assemble a mighty host, which any wise terrorist will simply run away from. Terrorists see America as a muscle bound coward. There has to be some attitude correction here before than can any serious impact on the way terrorists think.
The Afghans are a slightly different story. Like America, they get a lot of mileage out of legends. While no pushovers, the Afghans have been defeated many times over the centuries. The Afghans biggest military problem is that most of them are just as happy to fight fellow Afghans as go after some foreigner. Twenty years of much war, and little money, have left Afghans with some serious military problems. For one thing, they have few weapons. A few dozen working tanks, some artillery, a few warplanes, thats about all the heavy stuff the Taliban armed forces can muster. The US Stinger air to surface missiles received in the 1980s are worthless by now, as they require a special battery to operate the missile, and the argon gas and infrared cooler assembly that enables the missile to seek out the hot exhaust of a jet or helicopter. Moreover, there are an earlier model of the Stinger that was only about 60 percent effective. The Afghans never got any of the latest model, and no one has shown up in Central Asia with supplies of the special Stinger battery assembles.
The Taliban are feared, not loved. They are forced to fill their army with foreigners (largely from Pakistan and Arab countries). Their policy of halting poppy cultivation, while hailed in the West, left millions of farmers impoverished and desperate to get out of the country. This is why you are seeing so many Afghan boat people these days. But while last years poppy crop is gone, a large stockpile of opium and heroin is still being brought across Afghans borders by heavily armed and aggressive gangs. These thugs are another potential player in the Hunt For Osama.
The world will watch carefully how America uses its great military power, and habit of backing off at the least hint of real danger, in Afghanistan. What the world sees there will have a large impact on how the world reacts to the rest of Americas War on Terrorism.