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American and Brit. Raids "Measured and Powell-ish"

American and British Raids A Measured and "Powell-ish" Response

PRESS RELEASE by Massey University Senior Lecturer in Defence and Strategic Studies Dr Joel Hayward

American and British Raids A Measured and "Powell-ish" Response

This morning's raid's on Afghanistan may give cold shivers to those who have anxiously awaited American reprisals for the 11 September terrorist raids on Washington and New York. But these raids actually indicate several things that should encourage even the worst pessimists.

First, the raids represent a powerful victory for US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has for almost a month been firmly advising President Bush to make any military response only one facet of a wide-ranging war on terrorism. Military force should accompany all possible economic and diplomatic measures. So far so good, it seems.

Mr Powell has suffered stiff opposition from Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Apparently with initial support from Vice-President Dick Cheney, these two Pentagon hawks have been arguing fervently for a large, conventional military campaign focused on far more than the Taliban in Afghanistan and the terrorists harboured by that brutal regime. (These are the limits of Powell's military goals). They have wanted a war on all middle eastern anti-democratic forces. Powell considered this a crazy strategic option, arguing that such a campaign -- effectively a "clean-up" of the entire middle east -- would have taken months to plan, many more to prepare, and almost certainly have caused a greater, ever-escalating and horrifically bloody conflict.

Second, these raids on Afghanistan have been made before large conventional American and allied forces have built up in the region. The launching of raids before the placement of a campaign-sized force in-theatre indicates -- almost certainly -- that Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice have convinced President Bush to rule out a major traditional campaign; at least for the time being. The enemy is not even Afghanistan, in their minds, but the Taliban regime and the terrorists it harbours.

Third, the raids have two functions, the first of which is purely humanitarian. President Bush and Secretary Powell have for weeks now wanted to airlift or drop massive amounts of food, medicines and other essential aid to Afghanistan's starving people, especially the refugees fleeing the major cities. They could not do so for fear that Taliban forces would shoot down their transport aircraft. Targeting anti-air sites and weapons systems, and theTalibans' air defence radars, has given America a far greater chance of getting food shipments into Afghanistan safely without the loss of aircraft.

The raids' second function is to establish the right preconditions for the employment of the 33,000 special forces that have been readying themselves for action. These special forces will doubtless shortly enter Afghanistan and conduct "hunt and pounce" raids on Taliban forces and terrorists. Although the use of any military force is unfortunate, America's decision to use these special forces signals that Bush, Powell and Rice have chosen a limited, Taliban and terrorist-only response, and not a larger, more destructive and costly traditional campaign.

Lastly, the use of special forces and the limited size of America's military buildup -- approximately one-quarter the size of that for the 1991 Gulf War -- indicates that America recognises that it is not going to war against a large, powerful and well-armed foe, but instead against a tin-pot regime that can in no way resist with the organisation and strength of a modern nation-state. In other words, American and allied attacks will be sufficient to accomplish the finite tasks set by Bush, Powell and Rumsfeld, but not so large and blunt that they wreck Afghanistan's already antiquated national infrastructure, kill innocent Afghani civilians, or turn those civilians into a hostile foe.

This entire approach represents a genuine desire to keep any conflict localised and minimal in terms of its chances for escalation. Bush's actions of late reflect surprisingly well on him. We must now hope that his coming decisions will continue in a similar fashion. With Colin Powell at his side there is reason for optimism.

-- Dr Joel Hayward

-- Dr Joel Hayward teaches military history, strategy and operational art in the Centre for Defence Studies at Massey University.

Dr Joel Hayward,
Senior Lecturer and
Programme Coordinator,
Centre of Defence Studies,
Massey University,
Private Bag 11-222,
Palmerston North,
New Zealand

Tel.: NZ 06 350 4234
Fax: NZ 06 350-5676

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