Wednesday, February 21, 2007

War Story IV

Well, I did leave a bit of a cliff-hanger last time, so I'll just cut to the chase. World events seem to be expressing themselves to support what I'm about to say--witness the recent assassination attempt on Musharraf.

So, around Christmas of 2001, when the US military was heavily involved in the initial stages of our occupation of Afghanistan, there was still a great deal of talk about finding and killing Osama bin Laden. Don't hear much about that these days. The US operations in Tora Bora had recently concluded, and we knew that bin Laden had escaped and was somewhere north of the Khyber pass in the very same rugged, moutainous terrain that the Soviets never managed to control in their decade in Afghanistan.

I don't know all the details, but it seems we had good information about the location of bin Laden. He was meeting with a dozen or so important tribal elders in a mud-brick meeting house in a small, remote valley. My flight, which was performing reach-back targeting for US Air Force bombers flyin out of Diego Garcia, was assigned to create a targeting plan to facilitate an operation to get bin Laden. We couldn't just do what we normally did--place a pretty DMPI (desired mean point of impact) in the middle of the meeting house, mensurate the exact geocoordinates of that DMPI (a bit more complicated than it seems, because exact altitude is necessary as the bomb comes in at an angle, not straight down, so the imagery needs to be tied with several points to DTED--digital terrain elevation data), and send that off for entry into JDAMs (GPS guided bombs) that would soon be dropped over the site. Why couldn't we do that? Well, leadership decided that killing several important tribal chiefs might not be in our best interest--it could tilt sentiment in Pakistan against US operations, and even lend support to those factions within the ISID that wanted to overthrow Pervez Musharaff. So we had to prepare a fancy targeting plan--take out all roads leading out of the valley by targeting the most vulnerable points on hillsides and throwing in some gator mines to boot so that the meeting house could be isolated (from egress and reinforcements), allowing a small force to be choppered in to kill or capture bin Laden.

As I alluded to before, despite what I thought was a good targeting plan, the operation never went ahead because it was denied Presidential approval. Why would Bush deny approval for an operation that had a fair chance of getting bin Laden? Because the target area was inside Pakistan. I think that this is a little understood point: one of the most important pillars in the "War on Terror" is to ensure the stability of Pakistan under strongman Pervez Musharraf. We must not allow democracy to take hold there because if we did, then the people would overwhelmingly elect an islamist government, and then we would be in real trouble. Of course, I say that with a great deal of cynicism (if you take it as my voice), or complete doublespeak sincerity (if you take it as the back-room voice of the present administration).

So, if you're wondering why we aren't doing more to interdict terrorist training camps in Pakistan, or to get bin Laden (who is most likely still there), it's because our grand strategy demands that we keep the current power structure in Pakistan at all costs. The "islamic bomb" is a powerful motivator...

3 comments:

Ryan said...

Someone has been reading Chomsky lately...

Hey man, you know where I was back at that timeframe, and I can tell you the approval process for ANY target took way too long for the target to still have relevance in a lot of cases.

Smitty said...

Been away from this blog for a few months. I've read the other posts but I'm obviously still out of the loop. These 'targets', are we talking about assassinations here?

Anonymous said...

Do you really think Osama is still alive? (not rhetorical or sarcastic) How long to people usually survive once they begin kidney dialysis, as Osama had definitely begun prior to 9/11?