Note: The Custodian is not currently a paid analyst, nor does he play one on T.V. However, he has in the past worked as a systems and intel analyst for M.I.T., The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, and The RAND Corporation. None of this information is related to those projects; he's been away from the biz for over two years, and none of it is based on classified sources.

The U.S. Military Campaign in Afghanistan

One Analyst's View

Note: These nodes were in preparation several days before the U.S.-led air campaign began on October 6th. As a result, several of my assumptions and conclusions are fairly dramatically out of whack with reality. I offer them in their original form, however, as an example of a 'back of the envelope' study of a warfighting problem. -The Custodian

The United States appears determined to wage war in Afghanistan, even if not precisely against it. As ships and soldiers and aircraft depart their normal duty stations in the U.S., our civilian authorities keep telling us that they won't discuss operations which are under way or might be under way. They say a covert war is the only chance we have to succeed at our goals. Rather than compromise security, they warn, they will exclude the press and enjoin the troops from speaking.

The frightening thing appears to be that most Americans are taking this in stride. It is understandable, given the magnitude of the loss we as a nation (and all others who had citizens perish) face. However, it is time to remind ourselves that, problematic as the free press, public information flow and public discourse can be for effective military operations, there is a reason that they exist.

They were emplaced in our governmental system in an attempt to prevent the government from doing what, unfortunately, it is doing right now - exercising the full might of American sovereign power with little or no internal debate amongst the polity as to whether this exercise of power is called for and/or defensible.

I would like to state clearly that I am in favor of taking military action. I don't think that in the broad strokes this response to the attacks of September 11 is at all unjustified. However, I am secure enough in that belief, and more importantly I am passionate enough about the American society and governmental system, to believe that even if I am getting things the way I like them, there needs to be debate. The current air of secrecy is stifling the necessary deliberation through lack of information. Whether this is by accident or by design is not for me to say. However, when speaking with people in the U.S. by voice or by email, I have discovered that while they share a relatively unanimous feeling that 'something must be done,' they are often completely uninformed of what that 'something' will entail. This is not a slight on them; this is a worthy luxury that the U.S. has achieved - to have citizens remain unaware of the business between sovereign nations, and the costs that it can exact.

If we want to be able (as a country) to face ourselves in the mirror, however, it behooves us to know with as much clarity and detail as possible what we are proposing to do and to take on. With that in mind, I offer the following few poor words. Although I make no claim to exceptional analytic or military talent, I have spent many years of my life analyzing political and military problems; as a result, I may be better practiced than some. In any case, here, then, is a brief overview (written before there have been any announced major actions by the U.S. military other than deployment) of what is going on.

  • The Ends. Why are we doing this? No study of an action can be complete without some discussion of the reasons behind it and the goals it hopes to achieve.
  • The Means. What means will we use? What is available to us in terms of forces, personnel, access, allies, and the like?
  • The Ground What will we face, in terms of terrain, conditions and opposition?
  • The Method How, then, shall we employ the means to achieve our ends?

I explicitly plan to offer my own take on a solution at the end, after a quick overview of the problems and data that even now U.S. military commanders are going over in great detail - albeit possibly with much better, more detailed information than that which is available to us.

So, follow on with me; use the links in the list above. There is no compelling reason to read the first three in order, as they are state descriptions; the fifth section, however, will attempt to synthesize based on the middle three, so should be left for last.

Go to Part II

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