Anaconda: Success or Failure?
March 20, 2002
By Tommy Ates
While United States General Tommy Franks calls Operation
Anaconda "an unqualified and absolute success," the level
of success and penetration of former Taliban and al-Qaeda
remains to be seen.
On March 18th, the Pentagon announced that today was last
day of maneuvers for Operation Anaconda, the military campaign
to route out the largest known pocket of ex-Taliban and al-Qaeda
fighters near the town of Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan.
The military's view of a successful military operation is
that the enemy either 'surrenders or die.' To which, the holy
warriors produced small arms fire and a downed a U.S. helicopter
early in the battle.
Unlike previous military incursions (largely with assistance
of a new Kabul-based, Afghan army), this U.S.-led battle was
supposed to show the strength of the American military crushing
poorly trained Muslim fighters, instead the result of the
battle was the same as the ending of previous incursions by
Afghan-led troops, the Taliban extremists got away. Therefore,
Monday-morning PR quarterbacking set in, causing Gen. Franks
to utter the grandiose statement of "an unqualified and absolute
success," which even the mainstream press only lukewarmly
Unfortunately for the General, even U.S. intelligence privately
admits that the body count of the Afghan rebels has been small
(only 20 to 30 bodies). This amount of Taliban goes against
the stated number of 700 to 1000 fighters bantered midway
through the conflict, as the United States had to send in
reinforcements to the army troops because of the fierce fire-fight
the former Taliban and al-Qaeda waged. Then, the U.S. air
force delivered its now familiar air carpet-bombing campaign
to soften the opposition.
So, what happened to all those rebels? They should be dead,
right? Wrong. Ex-Taliban was not there and the U.S. ground
troops have only come across tens of bodies instead of hundreds.
Even though I am not an advocate of mass killing, the idea
that the United States can win a battle against an enemy that
is not present when you 'conquer' them (in some form) is mystifying
to many. The U.S. Afghan rebels, which were the strike force
in the campaign, have told war correspondents that they feel
that the rebels escaped, even though U.S. troops were positioned
around the battle area to trap the fleeing al-Qaeda.
Apparently, Operation Anaconda is another example of the
U.S. forces, guided by the Pentagon, over-estimating the resourcefulness
of a native, guerrilla army. The former Taliban and al-Qaeda,
the last diehards of the massive Taliban and al-Qaeda build
up before the fall of Kandahar, have in the rocky terrain
near the Pakistan border found a plethora of potential sanctuaries
and re-grouping points. With some of the rebels being familiar
with the territory and having sympathetic allies with some
of the local, tribal chieftains, they have been able to escape
along ancient mountain passes to and from Pakistan with ease.
In another Pentagon public relations coup, the United States
have managed to get England's Prime Minister Tony Blair to
send 1,700 troops to fight alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan.
The U.K. deployment, based upon a Royal Marines commando unit,
will work to stamp out Taliban and al-Qaeda pockets in eastern
and southern areas of the country. But, without the knowledge
and trust of the local Afghan tribal leaders (which many of
the former Taliban have returned to), will they [the British]
do any better then the U.S. military in eradicating Muslim
This new British campaign is launching as the country (as
well as the European Union) grows ever more wary of entering
a conflict without a visible exit. Tony Blair (the U.K.'s
version of Bill Clinton) already reminds some of conservative
Margaret Thatcher with her unending support of then President
Reagan hard-line cold war positions. The political battle
of U.K. troops in harm's way could be perilous indeed, and
the British press corps doesn't have a tough 'strong-arm'
Bush press office to deal with.
In terms of the war on terror, and Western interests, the
real issue remains that Operation Anaconda cannot hide the
illogical argument that fighting disparate rebels does not
make 'nation-building,' and like it or not it is an idea that
Bush administration must address in order to preserve the
peace in Afghanistan. Pentagon PR maneuvers to calm American
fears of an unending war in Middle East (Gen. Franks' announcement)
and the appearance of an active coalition (the British military)
will not hide the current administration policies of supporting
non-democratic regimes for corporate profit or 'strategic
Operation Anaconda has the illusion of a successful battle
while the real terrorists roam in western countries planning
attacks. Hopefully, the influence of public opinion wanting
peace will change their minds as our military poses for victory.
Tommy Ates loves the left because the left is always right!
He wants to help the underdog become the Top Dog.