The University Record, October 22, 2001

Get ready for unconventional conflict, says Singer

By Lesley Harding

A little less than a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. is fighting back. After just a few days of air strikes, U.S. and British forces are claiming air supremacy in Afghanistan. But the conflict is far from over.

Patience already has been a virtue for the U.S. and its supporters as it took 27 days to respond militarily. “I think it was sensible for the administration to delay,” says J. David Singer, professor emeritus of political science. “They thought things through, consulted with cooler heads and got their military ducks in a row.”

This delay gave the American government time to make new friends, reacquaint themselves with old ones and make sure the U.S. has a united front with its allies.

Despite widespread support, much of the actual war effort will fall on the United States’ shoulders. With one of the world’s most advanced militaries going up against one of the world’s most antiquated, Singer says, “It almost makes us look ridiculous.” He feels there’s no way to compare our high-tech equipment with Afghanistan’s 30-year old Soviet-style arms, tanks and missiles.

The U.S.’s military prowess starts in reconnaissance with its satellites; high-altitude planes, such as U-2s; and unmanned aircraft, called Drones. In initial attacks, U.S. government officials say bombs destroyed the Taliban’s infrastructure—its airports, communications and military buildings.

Air raids have paved the way for ground operations. “When the Taliban has lost all its anti-aircraft capabilities, then the U.S. can send in low-flying aircraft with relative safety,” says Singer.

Government officials now say the next phase could involve Special Forces, which include Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs and the ultra-secret Delta Force, trained for unconventional missions.

“The ones who volunteer for Special Forces are a different breed of cat,” says Singer. “They like the idea of war, the excitement, the physical training—they are tough kids.”

Singer feels the key to the Special Ops success is knowing the terrain and the language. Their covert missions will have them scrambling over jagged and soon-to-be ice-covered terrain to launch guerilla-style attacks. They’ll use parachutes, dune buggies and foot travel during surveillance missions. Small groups will carry out ambushes and raids and sniper units will lie in wait; long-gun sharpshooters can hit a target a third of a mile away.

The sheer numbers of the U.S. and allied military reaches into the millions. That compares to the estimated 45,000 Taliban troops, 40 percent of whom allegedly are volunteers from other countries.

In terms of hardware, U.S. officials say Taliban fighters had about 100 airplanes, mostly aging Soviet leftovers including fighters, bombers and helicopters. They have relatively few armored vehicles and unsophisticated missiles. But what they do have, says Singer, is familiarity of the terrain.

If there’s one thing the decade-long Soviet-Afghanistan war has taught the U.S., it’s that this will be an unconventional war, fought with unconventional methods. So Singer feels our troops will need unusual tactics and uncommon methods to beat Taliban troops and to eradicate terrorism around the globe.