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OnLine of Departure Support Wargames by Jim Werbaneth




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Originally Published September 14, 2001

By Jim Werbaneth

The forces of radical Islam attacked the United States at New York and Washington earlier this week, and so began what President George W. Bush calls “The first war of the twenty-first century.”  Comparisons with Pearl Harbor sixty years ago abound, and like that episode, Tuesday’s destruction is the first strike in a new conflict, one that promises to last years, and cost heavily in blood and treasure.

Looking at the conflict that began on September 11, 2001, it is tempting to fall into the pitfalls of emotion, giving in to rage, sorrow, loss, and an equally emotional certainty of victory.  All these feelings have their place, even the last, as a people that does not believe itself capable and worthy of winning is unlikely to do so.  Let no one doubt my emotional viewpoint; I am a committed American nationalist, one who wishes to see the full force and fury of my country loosed upon the forces of violent Islamic radicalism, wherever it nests.  I live to see that September 11 remains a Day of Infamy, but one not to be repeated, ever.  That is not because the avowed enemies of the United States no longer wish to inflict terror on my country, but because they are incapable of doing so.

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 America, avoid the bigotry and irrational backlash sure to threaten the innocent.  Accepting the Koran as the ultimate word of God is not prima facie evidence of hostility to the United States, let alone murderous intent.

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 United States, its allies, and our common enemy?  How will the war against terrorism be fought?


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 World Trade Center, or ignore the terrible loss of life: Far from it.  The terrorists’ attack murdered thousands of Americans, forever changed the lives of the survivors, and exacted a terrible psychological trauma on all.  The terrorists struck our own cities, our own people, our own country, and used the innocent as battering rams to do it.

Assessing the actual damage in the context of American national power reveals that the terrorists accomplished little.  All the damage to the World Trade Center, and even the Pentagon, did not decrease the wealth and power of the United States by a single iota.  Compare this to the other Day of Infamy in American history, the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Yamamoto’s masterstroke neutralized the American battleline, and thus eliminated all effective opposition to Japanese offensives throughout the Pacific.  The damage was such that the battleship never recovered as a weapon of war, and the loss of the big ships forced the United States into a naval strategy emphasizing the aircraft carrier.  Perhaps the eclipse of the battlewagon by naval aviation was inevitable, but it is certain that Pearl Harbor accelerated the process.

Pearl Harbor was also a truly mobilizing event for the target country, changing the United States overnight from a nation divided, and prone to isolationism, to one enraged and determined to fight and completely defeat Japan and its allies.

September 11 accomplished the same mobilization of American public opinion, a truly dubious achievement for an enemy of the United States.  Yet the Islamic terrorists failed diminish American power, even temporarily, whereas the Japanese exacted heavy losses in men, warships and aircraft.  Today the United States is not one bit less powerful, not one ship or plane less capable of exerting its will.  The towers of the World Trade Center fell, but the US remains the richest country on the planet, and the Pentagon was heavily damaged, and it remains the most militarily potent.

Yet America is far more determined to use that power for vengeance.  Furthermore, outrage around the world yields a solidarity and sympathy for the last standing superpower, one hardly accustomed to such feelings.

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 Afghanistan, and possibly Iraq.

This will be a different war than those fought by America in the twentieth century.  One can expect to see a bitterness and brutality on a par with the Pacific War against Japan, and a targeting of political and organizational infrastructure similar to Operation Phoenix in Vietnam.  But there will also be elements new to conflict; that one of the combatants is trans-national, or even substantially divorced from the concept of nation, is novel in itself.

I believe that the war that started this week will operate on three levels.


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 Afghanistan to be mounted solely by paratroopers backed by Apaches and fixed-wing aviation has to be viewed with caution.  In general, airborne units are lightly armed with little heavy equipment, and require relief within a few days at most by heavier armor and infantry.  The world’s sole attempt to take and hold an objective by airborne and air-landed troops alone, Crete in 1941, was a pyrrhic victory.  Germany’s paratroopers seized the island, but at terrible cost.

Naval forces would be extremely useful, but secondary to attacking a landlocked country such as Afghanistan.  The heavy units need transport by sea, unless in some likely event the United States gains basing rights in Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan, in which cases they could be carried by rail from Europe, and even that would require permission from Russia and Kazakhstan.

More likely, a punitive invasion of Afghanistan would come from Pakistan, which would mean sea transport through Karachi.  Securing those transport routes is the job of the navy.

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 Iraq, and Saudi Arabia grant neither basing nor transit rights, an American (and allied) combined amphibious and airborne assault on Basra and the Shatt al-Arab waterway would be essential.


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,  Less well-known is that the corresponding IP address is  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 United States.  Commando raids, stealthy reconnaissance, and military teaching, the last a specialty of the Green Berets, are respected.  Assassination and kidnapping are considered crimes.

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.  Israel pioneers the use of helicopter-launched anti-tank missiles to kill its enemies, a “clean” solution unless one has to be on the receiving end.

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.  Britain’s area bombing of Germany followed a hideous mathematics in which the forces of a democracy applied brutal methods against an evil dictatorship, purposely and specifically targeting the innocent.  In the end it can be defended by the most simple of rationales: It worked. Not by itself, as the Allied war effort was a complex matter of ground, naval, and air operations, with the American strategic bombing offensive taking the opposite tack of targeting narrowly-defined, precision targets.  But it cannot be denied that Bomber Command devastated Germany and German life.

Area bombing is unlikely to make a big comeback in the cities of Afghanistan or Iraq.  But the principle remains the same, on a smaller scale.  Does the murder of a terrorist leader or cell warrant the destruction of a block within a residential neighborhood?  By terrorist methods at that?

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.  Operation Phoenix, the American covert operation against Viet Cong political infrastructure, is a potential model for war against bin Laden.  Just as Phoenix demanded a partnership with South Vietnamese intelligence and police assets, so a new Phoenix calls for partnership with Islamic allies, who have much greater chance of infiltrating, or just understanding, a Moslem terrorist organization.


The war against Osama bin Laden and terrorism in general is one that can be won.  Given the power of the United States and its allies, the enemy is outgunned many times over.  They might run, they might hide.  But they can be followed.  Anywhere.

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.

Does the United States have the will to win?  This week, it does.  The shock of September 11 is a mobilizing force on a par with Pearl Harbor, for now sweeping away doubt and division as though by magic.

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 World Trade Center and the Pentagon will not be the last blows against the American homeland by al-Quaida and its subsidiaries.  There will be more dead American civilians, more televised horror stories and grieving.  The same horrors can also be expected by the allies.

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 America’s withdrawal from Vietnam, and American leaders and generals ever since have sought to minimize casualties.  At its core, this is a laudable goal, as a society must hold sacred the lives of its citizens to remain healthy.  Disregard for this leads to callousness and a tendency to waste life for insufficient returns.

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 Panama in which a particularly dense reporter asked an American general why the war had not yet ended, in a decisive defeat for the United States.  The war was less than a day old!

But in this new war, there will be coffins with flags on them.  That is not a choice that America has to make, as it has already been made for us in some camp in Afghanistan.

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 United States, an essentially idealistic nation, temporarily overcome its scruples in the interest of victory.  The American people have to sustain their resolve through revelations of counter terror and murder. 

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 United States be rendered permanently callous and cruel, then the best part of the American spirit will be lost.  The nation will be a danger to itself and to others.

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.