(October 2007) Why does al Qaeda not seem to fear attacking and taunting a superpower?
Whoever coined the phrase 'The more things change, the more they stay the same,' couldn't have been thinking of modern warfare. When it comes to 21st Century military might, it seems, the more powerful a country gets, the less fear other countries have of it.
That two bombs can bring an end to a long war that had already killed 70 million people, may be a little hard to imagine. But when the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs (nicknamed 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man') on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945), Japan surrendered in only 6 days. What's more, the shock of the bombs generated such strong public sentiments against nuclear weapons that Japan eventually adopted the 'Three Non-Nuclear Principles;' The tenets state, 'Japan shall neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons, nor shall it permit their introduction into Japanese territory.'
It's unfortunate that it took an additional 100,000 deaths to end World War II. But with tens of millions already dead, it would not be an exaggeration to say that millions more might have died otherwise.
At that time, the U.S. had no nuclear stockpiles. We had tested our first nuclear weapon less than a month before the Japan bombings. The bombs were small, by today's standards; Hiroshima's approximately 15 kt, Nagasaki's approximately 21 kt. (1 kt [kiloton] has the explosive power of a thousand tons of dynamite.)
The U.S currently has over 9,000 nuclear warheads, of which almost 6,000 are fully active. Of these, over 400 are ballistic missiles with 475 kt warheads, each. To put it simply, we have enough explosive power to wipe every country off the face of the earth several times over.
There's little question that, weaponry wise, we've grown by leaps and bounds. But has our ability to fend off attacks or end a conflict with a strategic attack grown in the same proportion? That's questionable.
On October 7, 2001, American and British forces began aerial bombings of Afghanistan, named 'Operation Enduring Freedom,' targeting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This was in response to, and almost a month after, 9/11.
After a highly publicized deployment, the first significant U.S. combat troops of nearly 1,000 Marines finally arrived in Afghanistan and set up camp on November 25th, more than two months after 9/11.
Here's a quick quiz to determine your military-strategist potential. While our armed forces were on their way to Afghanistan, what do you suppose al Qaeda was doing: a) Playing Mahjong in an air conditioned cave; b) Running like crazy; c) Setting up production facilities to make videos.
Answer: None of the above. They were probably running, but not like crazy. One month is enough time to redecorate your cave, throw a lavish good-by party, then get out of town on a donkey. TWO months is enough time to move your cave to another mountain.
In fact, there are reports that on November 17, 2001, Osama bin Laden and his family left Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, in a convoy of 25 Toyota Land Cruisers for the mountains of Tora Bora. By around the end of the month, they had left Tora Bora and WALKED UNDISTURBED through the village of Parachinar.
By the time our giant B-52 bombers brought the war into full swing, bin Laden was nowhere to be found.
Now, six years later, it's pretty obvious how ineffective our strategy in the war against terror has been. Bin Laden is still alive, al Qaeda is still active, and the Taliban is making a comeback. Then, as if to insult our superpower status, we're being taunted regularly by al Qaeda videos.
But the problem doesn't end there. For bin Laden to be able to WALK through a town with an ENTOURAGE in the midst of a war in which he is the 'most wanted,' and not be immediately reported by the locals, shows a total lack of urgency by the commoners to get a master terrorist out of their midst.
Why should the locals care? Well, therein lies the problem; they have nothing to gain or lose by giving up a terrorist. If the locals thought for one moment that their entire neighborhood could suddenly turn into a crater, you think they'd care? You bet they would.
As someone once said, the best weapon is one you never have to fire. A close second, a weapon you only have to fire once? But the former can only work if your enemy is convinced you're fully prepared to use it.
One of our foremost weapons is the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) Trident II. With a range of 7,000 miles, the Trident II can travel at speeds of 18,000 miles per hour (that's 5 miles per second). At this speed, you could travel several times around the world in one hour.
The Trident II could have reached the mountains of Tora Bora in less time than it would've taken bin Laden to gas up and check the oil for 25 vehicles. One massive warhead could have devastated enough of that lawless terrain to render it uninhabitable for years, and wipe out bin Laden and most of his henchmen at the same time. (Please note, this is not intended to dictate what our choice of missiles should have been. It's aim is to merely give some sense of what we have in our arsenal.)
What would such a massive response have accomplished?
First, as mentioned, we would in all likelihood have gotten rid of bin Laden and most of his men. Keep in mind, splinter and copycat terrorist cells were not as prevalent in 2001 as they are today. Taking out bin Laden in 2001 would have had a serious impact on terrorism. Today's more evolved terror infrastructure would probably not suffer nearly as much by the elimination of bin Laden.
Second, and probably more importantly, the shock of such a sudden and massive response would have gotten the message across to the world that we mean business. If you consider the impact 9/11 has had on us, it's hard to imagine a comparably cataclysmic event not having equivalent reverberations in terror-sponsoring or -harboring states.
Had we taken our enemy by complete surprise with a massive, devastating attack immediately after 9/11, we'd probably have needed little more than an 800 number to fight whatever was left of terrorism. I'm convinced, leads would have been pouring in from average citizens from a host of nations.
How would the world have reacted to such an immense retaliation by the U.S.? To begin with, our survival takes precedence over world opinion; we were attacked, after all. Then, world opinion was very much in our favor immediately after 9/11, even from countries not normally our best friends.
Some of those reactions:
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi: 'Irrespective of the conflict with America it is a human duty to show sympathy with the American people, and be with them at these horrifying and awesome events which are bound to awaken human conscience.'
Syrian President Bashar Assad sent a condolence message to the White House, calling for 'world cooperation to eradicate all kinds of terrorism.'
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, visibly upset: 'We completely condemn this serious operation. We were completely shocked. It's unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable.'
Sheik Ahmed Yassin, head of Hamas, said he was not interested in exporting such attacks to the United States: 'We are not ready to move our struggle outside the occupied Palestinian land. We are not prepared to open international fronts ... '
North Korea called the attacks 'tragic,' adding that it 'is opposed to all forms of terrorism.'
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami expressed 'deep regret and sympathy with the victims' and said 'it is an international duty to try to undermine terrorism.'
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan: 'There can be no doubt that these attacks are deliberate acts of terrorism, carefully planned and coordinated and as such I condemn them utterly. Terrorism must be fought resolutely wherever it appears.'
French President Jacques Chirac: 'France is deeply upset to learn of the monstrous attacks that have just struck the United States. In these terrible circumstances, all French people stand by the American people. We express our friendship and solidarity in this tragedy.'
Chinese President Jiang Zemin sent a message to Bush, expressing condolences to the families of the victims of the attacks. He also expressed 'grave concern' for the safety of Chinese in the United States.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the attacks 'horrific,' then added: 'Egypt firmly and strongly condemns such attacks on civilians and soldiers that led to the deaths of a large number of innocent victims.'
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad Mahathir was one of the few, if not the only one, who voiced opposition to retaliation.
This is only a small portion of the support we received immediately after 9/11. It's almost as if the world was expecting a vigorous retaliation. So much so, I believe terrorist-sponsoring states were trying to distance themselves from the attacks so as not to bear the brunt of our wrath.
That unique window of opportunity to stand strongly against those who would attack us slipped out from under us. Did our relatively subdued response save lives? Well, thousands of civilians and military personnel have already died in our conventional war against terrorism. The end of the war is nowhere in sight. And there's no telling how many more will die before it's over. It certainly doesn't seem like this path saved or will save lives.
All this isn't about 'spilled milk' or America bashing. Quite the contrary. With the war on terror far from over, facing another attack on our soil is not out of the question. My hope is that, should there be a 'next time,' we will do things differently.
Some fear that using WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction), even to a limited degree, might open a Pandora's Box. Let's be realistic, that Pandora's Box is already open. Terrorists are actively seeking WMDs, and no one honestly believes they have any reservations about using them.
The consequences of not upgrading our tactics to match the threat-level we're facing today, is best summed up by a quote from Aaron Klein's book SHMOOZING WITH TERRORISTS: 'If the American approach to dealing with terrorism is not re-examined in the very near future, if we don't begin to understand how the terrorists think and respond to our policies ... we face a devastating reality, with global jihad at our doorstep before we even realize what happened.'
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