June 19, 2006
The Coalition counteroffensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan is getting a lot of help from the U.S. Air Force. Surprisingly, one of the most effective aircraft is the B-1 "Lancer" supersonic bomber, which was once criticized as either redundant or obsolete for the mission of delivering nuclear warheads onto Soviet soil. With its swing-swing configuration, it can patrol in a circular pattern for hours, and then race quickly to the target when the bad guys are pinpointed. It has a heavier payload capacity than a B-52. Most of the attacks have been in the southern province of Kandahar, where the poppy cultivation is centered. Other air strikes have targetted the moutainous region along the border with Pakistan, whose forces have cooperated in rooting out Taliban and/or Al Qaeda sanctuaries. One worrisome sign in the recent military campaign is that the Taliban has begun operating in larger-size units than before. On the other hand, the Taliban has lost its fundamentalist ideological fervor and has evolved into just another band of drug racketeers, like the FARC in Colombia. See Washington Post.
These facts suggest that the war is likely to drag on as a "low-intensity conflict" for years. Meanwhile, progress in training Afghan regular army troops and building government institutions is slow and frustrating. There are many differences with the war in Iraq, which is really just a series of terrorist actions, not a military campaign per se. Afghanistan is fractured among several ethnic factions, while in Iraq there are just three main rival groups. The Coalition in Afghanistan enjoys much broader international support than in Iraq, so the fledgling democratic government in Kabul can count on a steadier degree of assistance than the one in Baghdad. Hopefully, the often-impatient American public will at least keep that in mind as the long-term campaign to encourage a more liberal, open political system in Afghanistan goes on.
U.S. worries about nonproliferation in recent weeks has been focused on Iran, but now North Korea is clamoring for more attention, declaring its plans to test launch its new intercontinental ballistic missile, which could reach California. The United States, Australia, and Japan have warned the Pyongyang government of "serious consequences" if it proceeds. The missile is on the launch pad and has apparently been fueled, so it appears North Korea is calling the Allies' bluff. (See CNN.com.) What would the United States do in response to such a blatant provocation? I was wondering whether the U.S. Air Force might use some secret anti-missile system to shoot the thing down, presumably during the early launch phase. Rush Limbaugh thinks that option is being seriously considered as well.