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The Making Of An American Quagmire by Bill Berkowitz

"There is no pause. There is no lull. There is no quagmire," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said recently at a Pentagon press conference. I'm not sure how he defines "quagmire" but my dictionary (The American Heritage) says it is "a difficult or precarious situation from which extrication is almost impossible."

The United States is certainly in a "difficult" and "precarious" situation in Afghanistan and perhaps soon, the entire region. Extrication is not impossible: we could just up and leave Afghanistan. But that would convince the rest of the world that our original intentions were flawed from the start. The US could bring more troops to the country -- currently there are some 5,000 or so stationed there -- since some experts say that more than 100,000 is needed to assure some semblance of peace. The US could load the entire area with US troops (assisted by the British) and undertake a series of costly military actions.

Mindy Belz, reporting for World magazine, a weekly evangelical publication, writes that while it may seem like "the first phase of the war on terror might appear to be winding down...hold the mops when it comes to Afghanistan." And, I would add, the rest of the region as well.

Particularly related to Afghanistan, Belz reports that US Special Forces are now in eastern Afghanistan "on the lookout for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once an important U.S. ally." Hekmatyar used the occasion of the one-year anniversary of Sept 11 to issue a call to "freedom-loving Afghans to take part in jihad in their country against aggressor forces," referring to the United States, writes Belz. Hekmatyar called the United States the "mother of terrorism" and denounced "gutless Afghans who are fighting their fellow countrymen in support of aliens."

Things aren't going well for the US-supported President Hamid Karzai. A short article tucked away in the San Francisco Chronicle (September 24) reported that Karzai, a target of several recent assassination attempts, was criticized for "mismanaging the government and warned that his reliance on US bodyguards could have 'dangerous consequences.'" The warning appeared in an editorial in the weekly Paum-e-Mujahid newspaper, which the Chronicle called "a mouthpiece of Jamiat-e-Islami, the leading party of the Northern Alliance."

On the drug-war front, Britain's Independent reported that production of opium has grown from 185 tons in 2001 to more than 2,700 tons this year, a 1,400 percent increase. According to the Independent, Afghanistan's drug growers are back in business big time - the country is the source of 75 per cent of the world's heroin and 90 per cent of Britain's supply.

The future of Afghanistan is beginning to take on the look of a major league American quagmire.

Al Qaeda's long term strategy

Destabilization of Afghanistan and the entire region fits handily in al Qaeda's long term objectives. In a thorough-going essay published in Intervention Magazine* entitled, "According To Plan -- But Whose Plan?" Stephen Morgan, looking at the bigger picture, asks "are U.S. troops close to winning the war or is al Qaeda about to release a devastating death trap?" Morgan, author of "The Mind of a Terrorist Fundamentalist," is a former executive member of the British Labour Party National Executive Committee and currently a political and management consultant based in Brussels, Belgium. He fears that the US and its allies may be "overestimating" its successes in the one-year old battle against terrorism.

Morgan: "The picture painted by governments and media has been one of a highly successful campaign waged by the U.S. and allies that caught the Taliban and al Qaeda by surprise, sent them scurrying for the mountains, where significant sections of them were killed and their supplies destroyed, their camps wiped out and their ability to function as a network severely undermined. According to this view, al Qaeda was caught and punished and is now a shattered group reduced to panic and disorder."

Morgan credits al Qaeda with being extremely "flexible" and with cadres "trained and able to function independently." It is "one of the most sophisticated, cunning and intelligent terrorist cults to exist in history. Its leaders are a combination of highly educated and intelligent people and expert, battle-hardened military strategists."

Morgan advances an interesting theory: He suggests that it is likely that al Qaeda leadership knew they would be forced to leave Afghanistan after launching the Sept 11 attacks. They understood there would be a massive US retaliatory response and their retreat was planned well in advance, even going so far as enlisting old-time warlord friends and possibly some Northern Alliance allies as well. "How else," Morgan asks, "could they have so effectively melted away to safe areas of northern Pakistan, as well as organized the rapid dispersion of trained forces around the world?"

If, as Morgan hypothesizes, "events today are going roughly as al Qaeda and the Taliban planned," what's next on their agenda? Morgan posits that bin Laden's "Afghan strategy" was only meant as temporary - "a staging post for far more important aims, in regards to destabilizing the region and provoking the U.S. into further interventions in the Middle East as part of a plan to entrap the Americans and inflame the anti-imperialist sentiment in the region."

From its outpost in Pakistan, al Qaeda is regrouping and planning the next stage in its long-term campaign. Morgan: "This second stage of operations has already begun with attempts to destabilize the fragile regime in Kabul, carry out terrorist attacks and assassinations, build links and alliances with disaffected warlords, implicate the U.S. in civilian bombings. They are patiently waiting for disillusionment with the U.S. to grow as promises of development and economic prosperity don't materialize and, at the same time, ethnic rivalries increase to a level of civil war and chaos."

In a recent piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, noted author Salman Rushdie writes, "After the brief flirtation with consensus-building during the Afghan operation, the brazen return to unilateralism has angered even its natural allies." Rushdie calls a strike against Iraq the US's "biggest mistake" as it could "unleash a generation-long plague of anti-Americanism that may make the present epidemic look like a time of rude good health." He warns: "if, in today's highly charged atmosphere, the US embarks on the huge, risky military operation suggested by the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, then the result may well be the creation of that united Islamic force which was bin Laden's dream."

Rushdie: "The entire Arab world would be radicalized and destabilized. What a disastrous twist of fate it would be if the feared Islamic jihad were brought into being not by the al-Qaeda gang but by the President of the US and his close advisers."

"Disastrous" indeed! TeamBush's preparation for its preemptive strike on Iraq conflicts with the warnings of Rushdie and the analysis of Morgan. Bush administration policymakers appear to be dead set on pursuing just the type of strategy that Osama bin Laden's forces may have enticed them into and hoped they would follow.

Bill Berkowitz is a columnist for Mr. Berkowitz can be contacted via e-mail at

Bill Berkowitz

Thursday, October 3, 2002

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