Close Air Support – Part Two

I began writing this post  a few days before the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a targeted US raid on a compound in Pakistan. With last night’s news as a backdrop, it may seem less-than-patriotic to question our involvement in the Middle East. On the other hand, it may also be the perfect time, if for no other reason than to highlight a continuing reality unaffected by the demise of the world’s most notorious symbol of terror.

In “Close Air Support – Part One,” I provided a link to a video in which a helicopter gunship engages a target is support of US troops in Afghanistan. Interspersed with these images, interviews with soldiers and gunship crew members illustrate the unique bond that develops between those on both sides of troops-in-contact operations in combat.

At the conclusion of that post, I noted my intention to write a follow-up addressing the topic from the perspective of how and when and for what purpose we choose to apply such awesome firepower in pursuit of America’s global objectives. To that end, an earlier post titled “The Quagmire of Disproportionate Response” also applies.

No other nation can project military force with the speed and power of the United States. Combined with America’s insatiable need to influence and manipulate events around the world to further our own best interests, there can be only one result: multiple points of conflict in which overwhelming superiority in high-tech weaponry is opposed by the equivalent of an enemy from the stone-age.

On the surface, the outcome of the battle appears pre-ordained in favor of the mighty. The problem is that failure to look deeper leads to just the opposite, a war of attrition in which a guerrilla force outlasts the bully with the big stick, who never stops to consider the fundamental flaw in strategy and tactics that will ultimately result in defeat.

History has proven over and over again that persistence and determination in support of a cause deeply rooted in fanaticism will find ways to prevail. Terror can never defeat us on the battlefield, but it doesn’t have to. Its primary goal is to elicit a disproportionate response from the most powerful nation on earth and let us flail away with a sledgehammer trying to smash ants.

America’s descent into the current quagmire began in earnest following the tragedy of 9/11 and led us to this moment in which our domestic and international futures are threatened not by a single enemy wielding an AK-47, but by that enemy’s ability to instill in us the ill-conceived notion that we can afford to engage him with helicopter gunships, jet fighters, cruise missiles, and drones with smart bombs, just to name a few.

It’s so simple to illustrate the lunacy of this approach. Divide the number of enemy combatants killed since 9/11 into the cost of waging the longest period of continuous war in American history and look at the figure. We are being defeated economically in an unsustainable battle of attrition as evidenced by the referenced video in which a multimillion-dollar gunship is lured into a duel with one sniper. Anyone who thinks that’s going to result in long-term victory is delusional.

The human face of this futile effort is clearly seen in the interviews on the video. Volunteers look the camera in the eye and describe what it means to assist and be assisted in deadly combat. These young men and women are risking their lives, putting themselves in harm’s way, all in the cause of serving their country in a war doomed to failure.

I think it’s generally accepted that in the years since 9/11, the intensive search for Bin Laden has effectively removed him from Al Qaeda tactical operations and transformed him into a symbol, albeit a very powerful one, capable of inspiring followers to maintain pressure on infidels through the threat of imminent terrorist attacks around the world.

If we accept this hypothesis, then we can also acknowledge two additional results of his being out of the loop. First, centralized control of Al Qaeda operations has been weakened, negatively affecting their ability to plan and execute another attack of such devastating proportions as 9/11. Second, compartmentalization and the role of individual initiative has increased.

Like the pop-up lone sniper who can halt the advance of a patrol as they wait for arrival of an airborne sledgehammer, die while standing his ground, and then be replaced around the next curve in the road by another, individual suicide bombers flow from an inexhaustible supply line. There will always be more.

Today on the news, Senior Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan said that the death of Bin Laden will prove to be a devastating blow to the ability of Al Qaeda to maintain the cohesion necessary to effectively wage war. He also suggested that the current political instability due to popular uprisings and protests in several Middle Eastern countries is a sign that Al Qaeda is losing its grip on (my words) “the hearts and minds of their most lucrative source of recruits.”

I sincerely hope he is correct, but I fear that our national obsession with patting ourselves on the back for promoting the cause of freedom and liberty around the world too easily camouflages the underlying truth. America needs to collectively wake up and shake hands with reality. Our obscene dependence on foreign oil is the single most dangerous threat to our international and domestic security.

As a nation, we are allowing the blinders of hypocrisy to lure us into financial and cultural quicksand while politicians pontificate and citizens hide behind a wall of indifference, content to let a tiny percentage of Americans fight and die on foreign soil in a futile effort to control that which is not ours to control.

I only hope that when our national euphoria over bringing Bin Laden to a final reckoning has dissipated, we don’t for a moment consider his death a victory of lasting importance in the current struggle. Unfortunately, it’s a footnote to a battle whose outcome is far from certain.

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