February 26, 2006

War Sabotage Report

Rules of Non-Engagement

U.S. special forces, Afghanistan, 2001
U.S. Dept. of Defense
Attack and Retreat: U.S. Army special forces briefly raid Kandahar, Oct. 20, 2001 (seen through a night-vision scope).
Just in case anyone thought the introduction of U.S. ground troops into Afghanistan in 2001 signaled a thrust for victory, General Tommy Franks pointedly hinted that Vietnam, rather than World War II, would be the model for the Afghan War. As one news report summarized his message, “Those who expect a campaign like Desert Storm against Iraq a decade ago [in 1991] will be disappointed, Franks said. ‘This is a different war,’ he said. ‘This war will be fought on many fronts simultaneously.’”1

“Many fronts” certainly didn’t mean a massive invasion. At the time Gen. Franks was admitting the plan, fewer than 100 special-forces soldiers had been sent in. The Marines, who usually go into combat first to prepare the way for the army, continued to be held back until more than seven weeks after the war’s beginning, and even then only a small number were allowed in.2

The real meaning of “many fronts” was suggested by the first operation conducted by a handful of special forces. About 100 paratroopers, mostly Army Rangers, dropped into the southern Afghan city of Kandahar in a nighttime raid nearly two weeks into the war. Some of the soldiers attacked a Taliban headquarters and found themselves in a gunfight that killed a few enemy troops but left the post intact. A second group of commandos landed outside the city onto a military airfield, engaging in a shootout with Taliban troops but not even putting the airfield out of commission. After only a few hours, before the U.S. soldiers could possibly do any real damage, capture enemy troops, or secure control of any strategic spots, they withdrew as ordered.3

Former military officers and special forces veterans in both the United States and England were dismayed at the spectacle of valuable troops being wasted on “a show for the world news media” — one that left 31 of the commandos injured while accomplishing almost nothing.4

Yet with straight faces, President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld termed this peek-a-boo approach “a new kind of war.”5 By refusing to invade or hold territory, or even to confront the enemy seriously, this policy guaranteed enemy forces the opportunity to continue fighting indefinitely.

In trying to dignify the operation, news reports unwittingly revealed how deliberately the soldiers were being hamstrung: “The troops landed not to occupy territory but to test the defenses of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, to gather intelligence — and, perhaps, to send a message.”6

Taliban leaders responded to the “message” with laughter. One of their spokesmen told reporters that the Taliban “had driven off the Americans and that ‘this commando attack has failed.’”7

Once some Marines were finally sent in weeks later, they were restricted merely to patrolling roads to limit Taliban mobility, not being allowed to engage the enemy directly.8 Between patrols, they were required to operate from temporary bases so as not to hold any strategic territory, relying instead on treacherous, Communist-connected Afghan forces to protect them.9 Most of the time, blocked from attacking Taliban positions, the Marines were forced to sit around waiting to be attacked, spending long stretches without seeing even a single Afghan.10

Unsurprisingly, the Marines frequently found themselves being nearly ambushed by enemy forces sneaking up on them, including tanks and armored personnel carriers.11 As a small force with little backing, the Marines often could not be sure they were even hitting enemy attackers, and were caught in at least one battle lasting several hours when stronger ground forces with air support would have finished the attackers within minutes.12

In contrast to World War II, when U.S. forces would destroy entire city blocks rather than risk American lives in close-range urban combat, the Bush Administration declared such methods off limits. Speaking for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem publicly announced that U.S. troops would have to fight house by house amongst booby traps and blind alleys, where superior American firepower would be useless.13

As soon as the Taliban heard that urban areas would be safe havens from aerial bombardment and artillery, they promptly moved their un-uniformed forces and weaponry directly into homes, schools, and mosques in the middle of Afghan cities, throwing out the residents — or using them as human shields against American bullets.14 Later, when the urban fight did not materialize as planned, Taliban forces relocated into the mountainous areas of Afghanistan to continue their guerrilla warfare.

Given such unprecedented restrictions, Adm. Stufflebeem acknowledged that there wouldn’t be any possibility of an American victory, or at least not a quick, relatively bloodless one. “This is going to be a long, long campaign,” he concluded.15

Indeed, to this day Marines and Army soldiers continue the pattern of aimlessly patrolling in dangerous, uncontrolled regions without proper backup, periodically being ambushed by hidden enemy fighters while remaining unable to win the war.


1. Richter, P. & Paddock, R.C., “Rumsfeld details ground operation,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 31, 2001, pp. A1, A17.

2. Hendren, J., “Deployment of Marines signals a new chapter,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 27, 2001, p. A5.

3. Schrader, E., “Raid targeted a residence of Taliban leader,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2001, pp. A1, A20; Richter, P. & Pae, P., “U.S. ground forces raid airport in assault on Taliban stronghold,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 20, 2001, pp. A1, A14.

4. Richter, P., “U.S. Afghan raid takes some sniping at home,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 9, 2001, pp. A1, A19.

5. McManus, D., “Foray is shift, but no D-day,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 20, 2001, pp. A1, A16.

6. Ibid.

7. Schrader, E., Op cit.

8. Hendren, J., Op cit.; Phillips, M.M., Newman, S., & LeVine, S., “Marines, Afghan allies move closer to Kandahar,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5, 2001, pp. A3, A22; Cummins, C. & Philllips, M.M., “U.S. takes more active role in ground offensive,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 6, 2001, pp. A3, A10.

9. Hendren, J., Op cit.; Phillips, M.M., Newman, S., & LeVine, S., Op cit.

10. Phillips, M.M., “In Afghanistan, Marines find the sand a gritty, every-present, unrelenting foe,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2001, p. A4; Phillips, M.M., “Over the hump: Tense, bored Marines watch camels for desert days, nights,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 6, 2001, p. A10.

11. Hendren, J., Op cit.; Jaffe, G. & Cummins, C., “Marines face increased risk as they aim to intercept fleeing enemy fighters,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 27, 2001, pp. A3, A24.

12. Perry, T., “‘They could be dying if we didn’t do things right,’” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 8, 2001, p. A5; Hendren, J., Op cit.; Jaffe, G. & Cummins, C., Op cit.

13. Richter, P. & Pae, P., “Taliban battle will be tough, U.S. concedes,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 25, 2001, pp. A1, A16.

14. Ibid.; Tempest, R. & Marshall, T., “Taliban placing hopes on age-old hit-and-hide strategy,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2001, p. A9.

15. Richter, P. & Pae, P., Op cit.