[TODAY]War on Terror Needs Clearer ObjectivesThe first snow of the year has blanketed the Hindu Kush, the major mountain range in Afghanistan. Once winter arrives in the rugged mountains where the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden can seek refuge, roads will be sealed off and America's military operations in Afghanistan will become devastatingly difficult.
The United States destroyed the Taliban regime's basic military facilities and Qaida combat training camps during three weeks of air raids. However, it has yet to achieve its strategic objectives of either capturing or killing Mr. bin Laden, destroying the terrorist organization, Qaida, and setting up a pro-American government with the participation of major tribes of Afghanistan in place of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban.
Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, starts on Nov. 17 and is as grave a threat to the United States as is the freezing winter. Islamic states tend to regard military attacks during the Ramadan as a desecration of Islam. Should the United States continue its offensive in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan may defect from the anti-terror coalition.
But if the United States stops operations without finding a trace of Mr. bin Laden, the operations could resume only in the spring. That would give the Taliban and the followers of Mr. bin Laden ample time to reorient themselves. Such a stop-and-go conflict would bring miserable memories of Vietnam for Americans.
Richard Holbrooke, who served as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations in the Clinton administration, warned recently in the Washington Post that the United States might be losing the psychological war. "Defining what this war is really about in the minds of the 1 billion Muslims in the world will be of decisive and historic importance," he wrote. But Mr. Holbrooke says Mr. bin Laden has gained the initial advantage in this struggle by arguing that this is a war against Islam, rather than, as President Bush says, a war against terrorism.
The history of central Asia is not friendly to the United States either. U.S. influence, which grew after the Gulf War, is likened to the influence of the ancient Persians, Alexander the Great's Macedonia, the Arab empire of the Abbasids in the 8th century, Mongol rule and the Timur empire in the 13th through 16th centuries and the Ottoman Turks after the 15th century. This history amplifies Taliban propaganda.
Herat, a strategic center when the Persian rulers of Afghanistan fell to the Shaibanid empire in the 16th century, withstood attacks for nine months during that campaign. Genghis Khan attempted to conquer Afghanistan in the 13th century but failed in the rugged mountains. Britain fought three wars there between 1838 and 1919 but had to satisfy itself with indirectly controlling it for 39 years. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 but lost the war after 10 years. The Taliban warriors regard the United States as yet another superpower attempting to conquer their land. Their resolve is strengthened by the lessons learned by their ancestors.
The objectives that need to be attained before wrapping up operations in Afghanistan are clear. Mr. bin Laden has to be gotten rid of, his network must be destroyed and a pro-American government should be set up in Afghanistan. Next should come large-scale economic aid that should stabilize Afghanistan politically, economically and socially.
But since military operations have not yet achieved much, discussions on forming a post-Taliban government have made scant progress. Pakistan insists on the inclusion of the moderate elements of the Taliban, while Russia and Iran are equally steadfast in their demands to set up a government that excludes the Taliban.
The unknown whereabouts of Mr. bin Laden, the upcoming Ramadan, the spread of the anthrax scare and growing criticism toward the Afghanistan operations from the British public all bear witness that the situation may turn against the United States in mid-November so as to isolate it internationally.
Eradication of terrorism is a long-term global goal. The attack on Afghanistan is a means to that end. More specifically, it is intended to avenge the terror attacks in New York and Washington and to get rid of the source of those gruesome terrorist attacks. The United States should repress the urge to expand the war front to Iraq and limit its objectives.
The Bush administration should clearly identify the objectives and the means in this struggle and provide a vision for international cooperation after the overthrow of the Taliban regime as well as for the normalization of Afghanistan after the war. It should also implement balanced anti-terrorism policies and strategies. If the operation's nature and boundaries are unclear, a successful international coalition cannot be forged.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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