David Miller: America’s War Against the Taliban
America’s War Against the Taliban
Osama bin Laden is not the only enemy in the United States’ declared war on terrorism because this is also a war that aims to remove Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia from its seat of power. Since 1996, the Taliban have provided a safe haven for bin Laden and his supporters and it is due to this connection and support for al-Qaeda that they have placed themselves directly in the line of fire. It is unlikely the Taliban will deliver bin Laden to the US even in the face of growing international pressure and isolation, however even if they choose to co-operate it is clear that the US will not deviate from its objective of removing them their from power. The problem is that air power alone will not be sufficient to force a change of government in Afghanistan.
The United States had accused Afghanistan as being a sanctuary for terrorism before the events of September 11. The only reason Afghanistan does not appear on the US State Department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism is because the US does not recognise the Taliban regime. In 2000, a State Department report was released in which it was alleged that South Asia had become the hub of international terrorism in the 21st Century and the report placed Afghanistan at its centre. The presence of bin Laden reinforced this view.
Comments made by President George W. Bush over the weekend not only reiterated this stance, but also provided the strongest indication since the strikes that an attack on Afghanistan was imminent. Mr Bush made it clear that time for the Taliban was running out and this came amidst the military build-up around Afghanistan and with US and British Special Forces having already infiltrated the country. Over the past few weeks, the United States embarked upon a number of different strategies designed to isolate the Taliban and to dismantle its rule. Along with the build up of forces, this has involved the use of intelligence gathering satellites over Afghanistan and the establishing of communications with the opposition Northern Alliance movement in a bid to determine nature of the government that would succeed the Taliban. The next likely step, apart from launching the air offensive, is likely to be the supply of weapons to these forces.
Unfortunately for the Taliban, they have proved to be their own worst enemy. Not only have they sheltered bin Laden and provided him with training facilities, they have constantly stated that there is no case against bin Laden since the events of September 11. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar again made this claim at the weekend and in his comments, Omar stated that those who carried out the strikes on New York and Washington left no traces behind them and that no one would possible commit suicide on the orders of others or for the aims of others. Omar also stated that the United States should also examine its own record in foreign affairs to find the “remedy’ for the attacks.
Despite Omar’s claims, this is precisely how Islamic Fundamentalist terrorism operates. The use of the suicide bomber has not developed since September 11 or the Palestinian Intifada, but has been a weapon of choice for many years. The 1983 attack on the US Marine barracks in Beirut was the work of the suicide bomber and it is this willingness to die for a cause that makes this brand of terrorism so potent.
The Taliban have also been belligerent in their approach to the conflict. They have not only threatened the United States with a bloody conflict should the US launch an attack, but they have also threatened to attack neighbouring countries, such as Uzbekistan, if they aid the US in tracking down bin Laden and allow their airspace to be used in the attack against him. There are also reports that the Taliban has deployed 8000 fighters to the Uzbek border. Whether the Taliban can carry out such as threat is another matter.
As with the task of finding bin Laden himself, removing the Taliban from their seat of power will not be an easy task, especially if the US is not prepared to deploy ground forces. I have always been sceptical of using air power alone to cause a change of government and I have repeatedly questioned whether air attacks will realise the objectives of the United States in this war. I am fully supportive of using military power to destroy the al-Qaeda network and the Taliban regime, however the Kosovo crisis demonstrated that while air power can destroy a country’s infrastructure ground troops must be deployed to change the situation on the ground or else sufficient internal pressure must be forthcoming.
In Kosovo, the rebel KLA was already on the ground and Yugoslavia needed international aid to rebuild its shattered economy. In this case the Taliban have little in the way of an economic structure and are quite prepared to face international isolation. They do not need to fear the air campaign alone and initial reports suggest that the US attack has so far failed to kill bin Laden. However, the Taliban do need to fear the arming and supply of weapons to the opposition Northern Alliance and any possible internal threat. This is the only way that the Taliban will fall from power and until the opposition are in a stronger position than what they are now then there will be no change in the status quo.