The Seventh Eulogy
By Clint Douglas
Yesterday, on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke before the House Armed Services Committee about the war in Afghanistan. He should be applauded for his honesty, but his words were not reassuring. He said things like, "I'm not sure that we're winning it in Afghanistan," and "Frankly, we're running out of time." He admitted that the new deployment of an Army brigade and a Marine battalion were inadequate to the task at hand in Afghanistan, but that it amounted to "a good start."
"A good start?" What does that mean, exactly?
Apparently, it means that after years of neglecting Afghanistan, it is now on par with Iraq as a priority. However, as we are not going to commit the ground troops that we so desperately need in Afghanistan, it can only mean that we will ratchet up the air campaign further. But bombing from the air will not (nor has it ever) defeated an insurgency, as Erin Simpson, my colleague here at Intel Dump, pointed out: "The population is the prize," she said. The only way to win over the population is to provide them with a certain measure of security, and they only way to do that is with men. On the ground. With guns. Development projects will fail and actionable intelligence will not flow until this most basic criteria has been met. I know that this must all sound reductive, but it is still something that we have failed to put into practice.
The situation with Pakistan is worse, where we have opted to expand our use of unmanned Predator drones in the hunt for bin Laden, which has thus far produced zero results. The officials involved in the hunt have attributed their failures to
"an overreliance on military force, disruptions posed by the war in Iraq, and a pattern of underestimating the enemy. Above all, they said, the search has been handicapped by an inability to develop informants in Pakistan's isolated tribal areas."
In other words, they have admitted their incompetence, and we will fall back on the only thing that we seem to have confidence in -- airpower. Predators have many uses, but they no panacea. They're excellent for finding men planting bombs and IEDs, for example. But a drone flying high over western Pakistan can only report such intelligence gems as, "I see a man with a beard....he's surrounded by other men with beards...wait, they're getting into a Toyota Hilux pickup. They're driving....down a road....with all the other pickups." They're utterly useless without other corroborating forms of intelligence, preferably of the human kind. This does not constitute the beginnings of a new aggressive campaign to catch bin Laden, rather it marks a failure of imagination and transparent desperation.
After all the blood spilled and all the treasure squandered, we are no closer now to crushing the Taliban and Al Qaeda than we were on September 12, 2001. This is a disgrace. Go home tonight and raise a glass to the fallen. Cry if you must, but your blood should be boiling. The memories of the dead deserve so much more.
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