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Operation 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 received.

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 extremism?

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 stability.'

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.

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