THE BRUTAL ROAD TO SECURITY
FIRST THOUGHTS ON THE FIRST WAR OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
of radical Islam attacked the
Looking at the conflict that began on
Let that be because they are dead. Let the followers of Osama bin Laden and all those who support and harbor them build their next mosque in hell.
As for the rest of Islam, I hope that the Moslems who
are as repulsed and horrified as the rest of
With that established, and disavowing any pretense of
impartiality, it is necessary to look at the coming war rationally. What is in store for the
With with a critical eye, it becomes readily apparent
that the damage done on September 11 was not critical. This is not to denigrate the property
damage at the
Assessing the actual damage in the context of
American national power reveals that the terrorists accomplished little. All the damage to the
September 11 accomplished the same mobilization of
American public opinion, a truly dubious achievement for an enemy of the
What did the attacks accomplish? I believe nothing good for the perpetrators.
There will be a war in response. The organizations led or coordinated by
Osama bin Laden, starting with his al-Quaida, will be the primary targets;
for the first time in modern history, one of the combatants is an individual
and an international movement, not a nation-state or insurgency. The war will extend to the countries that
harbor and support him, starting with
This will be a different war than those fought by
I believe that the war that started this week will operate on three levels.
THE CONVENTIONAL WAR
Conventional warfare of the sort likely to be prosecuted against bin Laden and his allies is the most familiar to Americans, and it typified by the simple principles of destroying enemy military units, installations, and equipment. But arguably, it is also the most complex, operating at many levels and through all arms and services.
The quickest response would be through airpower and cruise missiles. The latter were the favorite weapons of the Clinton Administration------I believe excessively-----offering the advantages of long range, accuracy, and not putting a pilot at risk. Cruise missiles are suicide planes without the suicide.
They are a finite resource however, and carry insufficient payload for many tasks. Despite the desires and expectations of casualty-adverse leaders and populace, it is often necessary to send manned aircraft. Stealth aircraft offer a level of precision better than cruise missiles, and with very little risk to pilot or plane. Additionally, stealth missions typically involve small, cost- and force-effective strike packages, maybe one or two planes per target.
Yet again, the easy solution is frequently not even close to the best. Sooner or later, it takes men in visible airplanes, flying in daylight, to engage and destroy enemy targets that are too large, too general, or too numerous for standoff missiles, or stealth aircraft carrying limited quantities of munitions. For example, an F-117 stealth fighter is an ideal weapon for taking out a critical command building, or the nexus of an air defense network. But it is a terrible tank buster. For that, F-16’s and A-10 Warthogs are the weapon of choice, as are AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
Using these aircraft accepts the certainty of losses. Even in an environment of total dominance of airspace, American aircraft will be lost, if by no other means than accidents and the odd lucky shot from the ground.
For a really decisive result, it is essential to commit ground troops. Kosovo was decided solely by air power, but that is an exception to an otherwise ironclad strategic rule. Sooner or later, victory depends on having men on the ground; ultimately there is no other way to control territory, or regulate the movements and activities of the natives.
Of course this will be resisted, and there will be losses.
Just as with air forces, ground forces have to be tailored to the mission. Heavy armor and mechanized infantry work best on flat plains, light infantry in cities and mountains, and as the US Marine Corps specializes in amphibious operations, is best employed on a coastal littoral. Like the Marines, airborne forces work well in a “breaking and entering” role.
However, early media speculation about an invasion of
Naval forces would be extremely useful, but secondary
to attacking a landlocked country such as
More likely, a punitive invasion of
Seapower fulfills two other vital roles. One is to provide platforms for cruise missile launches, familiar from Desert Storm.
The most crucial asset of the navy is its aircraft carriers. Each carrier air wing outclasses most national air forces in the world, so sending one to an area achieves instant air superiority. Sending two achieves air dominance. Three makes the air war a non-contest.
Finally, when it comes to amphibious warfare, the
navy and the USMC are symbiotic partners.
Should the war against terrorism extend to
Imagine a military officer or analyst, even one of a visionary nature, watching the nascent air forces of 1914. Could he imagine the air war four years later? Looking at the frail and slow reconnaissance planes of the day, could he even imagine that there would be an air war?
The situation is very similar today, only instead of aerial warfare, the issue is cyber warfare. In 2001 the Internet is as new as the airplane was in 1914, but has penetrated and revolutionized economics and culture far more that air travel at the same age. Worldwide communications and commerce is cheaper and easier than ever imagined just twenty years ago.
The Internet presents opportunities to all areas of society to disseminate information, communicate and do business. That is all areas of society, the bad as well as the good, as demonstrated by web sites set up by pedophiles and racial supremacists. The opportunities extend as well to terrorists as well.
If an enemy operates in cyberspace, then it is necessary to pursue him there, just as one with an air force has to be chased in the air. Thus a war against bin Laden and al-Quaida calls for a cyber war.
As with the embryonic air war of World War I, the first capability of a cyber offensive against bin Laden would be for reconnaissance and intelligence. Reading the other side’s e-mail would be a major step toward victory. Should bin Laden and company use encryption safe from American efforts to break it, a dubious proposition in light of the National Security Administration’s cryptoanalysis capabilities, traffic analysis could yield valuable intelligence.
Every Internet node has a unique numeric Internet protocol [IP] address, as well as the more familiar word-based Fully Qualified Domain Name [FQDN]. For example, Microsoft’s FQDN is, as most ‘Net users know, www.microsoft.com. Less well-known is that the corresponding IP address is 18.104.22.168. That’s the simplified version; I will avoid subnet masks for sake of argument.
Even personal computers connected to the Internet have IP addresses. For a Windows 95/98/Me user, it is easy to find. Start a DOS command prompt window, and type in “ipconfig.” The command will return the IP address and subnet mask.
Traffic analysis of the terrorist network’s communications could begin with identifying a computer used by a known enemy. Then using advanced utilities, an agency such as the NSA could trace the information packets sent and received by that computer. It must be remembered that the Internet protocol on which the system operates is unrouted, and essentially lets packets find their own best ways to the recipient; the entire scheme is so fundamentally chaotic that is a wonder that it works at all. So a terrorist’s packet-----and there will be many in even the shortest message-----will pass through multiple servers, nodes, and routers on their way to the recipient.
By following these paths, the intelligence agency could identify the recipient computer, or at the very least the Internet service provider. Identifying the computer with which a know terrorist communicates is evidence points a finger of evidence at its user too. Subsequently, the intelligence agency can follow the packets dispatched from it to identify still more machines associated with terrorists.
There are other opportunities as well. If an identified terrorist frequents a web site, then that information could be turned against him. His next visit could give him more than the chance to buy music or view Western pornography; he could take a virus or worm program home with him. The potential uses of either are impressive. An illicit program might gather more intelligence from his hard drive or Internet habits, then send its information home to the Americans through its own internal e-mail client, thus leaving the infected computer and its owner none the wiser.
Viruses are, as their victims well know, destructive. Thus in the cyber war against terrorism, they become more active weapons against the machines of the enemy. The viruses best known to the general computing public either activate in each computer as it becomes infected, or lie in wait for a predetermined date and time. A third possibility of great potential in a shooting cyber war is a destructive virus that lies dormant, perhaps camouflaged against the operating system (no doubt sold by Americans), and proofed against anti-virus software detection software (again American products). It would activate in all of its awful glory when triggered by a specific, coded packet sent by an enemy. Combined with an attack by conventional military forces or special operations troops, crippled computer networks can isolate the battlefield and jam communications as airpower and electronic warfare units did in Desert Storm.
The possibilities are endless. So were those of aircraft at the start of World War I.
This kind of conflict is sure to make civilized people squirm. And under civilized circumstances, it should.
Special operations warfare has a somewhat ambiguous
reputation in the
In fact, the worst aspects of special operations warfare are going to be necessary to win the war against terrorism. Call it terror against terror, call it crime in service of the greater good, call it what you will, it remains a prerequisite to destroying terrorist networks.
This is not a blind assault against wide targets that have no significant regarding the enemy’s ability to resist and strike back. Optimally, it is a much more precise but equally ruthless dagger aimed the individuals and cells of the terrorist organization.
If a terrorist leader can be identified and located,
he should be neutralized. Putting a
smart bomb through his living room window is a possibility that might appeal
to the American people. In World War
II, Americans cheered the assassination of Yamamoto by fighter plane.
But over the course of history, these are the exceptions. Neutralizing an enemy is more likely to be up close and personal, carried out by a man on the ground. It might be by sniper rifle, garrote, or a knife in the back; perhaps a healthy bribe to a trusted associate can accomplish the goal. Maybe an enemy could have a fatal car accident, or have his airplane mysteriously fall out of the sky.
The terrorists themselves offer other means that American and allied special operations units might use. A car bomb, for example, can take out a headquarters.
This points out a couple of reasons for civilized Americans to turn their eyes from the nastier aspects of special operations warfare. With some reason, they might regard this as descending to the level of the terrorists. I counter that in the defense of a democracy, in this case the end more than justifies the means.
Second, there are assassination methods that endanger noncombatants. Car bombs are an excellent example; the target building is unlikely to be the only one falling down, and the terrorists might not be the only ones buried in rubble.
The sad fact is that civilized peoples have to accept
that there will be uncivilized secondary results to their own defense.
Area bombing is unlikely to make a big comeback in
the cities of
In this war, it probably does.
In addition, there cannot be strict limits on the theatre of operations, nor on the strictly-defined terrorist roles of the targets. Osama bin Laden has wealthy associates and supporters who are vital to financially supporting his organizations. They are valid and worthy targets for neutralization, by any means.
Murder will not be the only dirty method in a dirty war. There will be burglary to gain intelligence, and kidnapping to gain the same thing through prisoner interrogation. Extortion, bribery, robbery, all have their places.
Disinformation should not be neglected either. Elmore Leonard once wrote that wonderful things grow when you sow your seeds of distrust in a garden of assholes. An organization in which that distrust grows to lethal levels, and sees good terrorists tossed dead in the street by their own distrustful comrades, eliminates itself without the direct support of an American bullet.
The first central objective of a covert special operations effort should be intelligence. Knowing the enemy is always absolutely necessary to winning, and against an enemy as amorphous and mysterious as bin Laden’s organizations, it takes on even greater importance.
The second is to destroy the networks, one cell or
even one terrorist at a time.
The war against Osama bin Laden and terrorism in
general is one that can be won. Given
the power of the
Often warfare can be summed up by three sentences. If it can be seen, it can be hit. If it can hit, it can be killed. So don’t be seen. Sooner or later, bin Laden’s networks will be seen, on an installment plan, and that will be their doom.
In this struggle, the most important variable is will. The willpower of the terrorists is already demonstrated in the violent glare of burning jet fuel: The uncommitted do not incinerate themselves against tall buildings. They have already shown that they want to win, and will sacrifice everything to do so.
Yet national will is nothing to be taken for granted. It must be sustained through adversity by effective leadership and the credible presentation of victory.
There will be adversity at home. No doubt, the attacks on the
I expect that to only harden American resolve.
The will to fight can be eroded, however, by military
casualties, if the civilian population feels that there is insufficient
progress toward victory. This was an
important factor in
However, this has led to a feeling that war should be
devoid of friendly losses, and can be rendered free of them. Yet victory is inevitable. I will always remember a press conference
during the invasion of
But in this new war, there will be coffins with flags
on them. That is not a choice that
There is a second potential factor for declining national will, and that is the nature of the war. To defeat a foe as determined and ruthless as bin Laden’s terror network demands equal determination and ruthlessness. As the details of special operations reach public view, and with a free press no information can be suppressed forever, elements of the American people will recoil in horror from the actions of their own government and soldiers. These elements will include some of the very best and most moral among us.
It is essential that the
Moreover, there will be mistakes, and innocents will die at American hands. News that special operations soldiers blew up the wrong neighborhood or cut the throat of an Algerian waiter instead of a pro-Taliban fanatic cannot be allowed to change strategy. The knowledge that ruthless is necessary to win has to win out over momentary feelings or moral revulsion.
This temporary suspension of peacetime morality has
to be just that, temporary. Should the
That is one more way for the terrorists to win.
But until then, the need to preserve the standards and norms of peace and civilized behavior, gained with so much difficulty through history, need to be safeguarded. That it requires the brutality and violence inimical to them is one more unpleasant fact of life during wartime.