[DEBATE] : An Afghan 'October surprise'? - New technology used in Iraq and Afghanistan to hunt
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Sun Sep 14 12:28:48 BST 2008
An Afghan 'October surprise'?
New technology used in Iraq and Afghanistan to hunt down and kill
terrorists may inject itself into the presidential race. Tim Rutten
September 13, 2008
Friday, The Times' Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes reported that the
United States has escalated its war against Al Qaeda and its Taliban
allies by "deploying Predator aircraft equipped with sophisticated new
surveillance systems that were instrumental in crippling the insurgency
It's a story whose significance may extend well beyond the benighted
hills and valleys of Pakistan's violent Pashtun hinterlands and onto the
hustings of our current presidential campaign. Coupled with Thursday's
report in the New York Times that President Bush has signed a secret
order permitting Afghanistan-based U.S. special operations forces to
cross into Pakistan without Islamabad's permission, the odds of an
"October surprise" that could influence the general election have risen
U.S. officials also told The Times that the new surveillance systems
allow the operators of the unmanned Predators to locate and identify
individual human targets "even when they are inside buildings. ... The
technology gives remote pilots a means beyond images from the Predator's
lens of confirming a target's identity and precise location."
The Times' story confirms the most sensational revelation contained in
Bob Woodward's new book, "The War Within: A Secret White House History
2006-2007," which was published this week. Woodward revealed the
technology's existence but, heeding requests from intelligence
officials, declined to describe its operations except to say that it had
allowed U.S. forces to locate and kill decisive numbers of senior Al
Qaeda operatives and Iraqi insurgents. In what may be the book's most
controversial claim, Woodward argues that the secret technology and the
so-called Anbar Awakening -- in which counterinsurgency techniques
developed by the Marines won over tribal leaders in that crucial
Sunni-dominated province -- had as much or more to do with stabilizing
Iraq as the "surge" in U.S. troop numbers.
Beyond the purely military considerations, there are potentially
significant political implications. First and most obvious is the
question of the surge's efficacy. The answer matters, particularly to
John McCain, who has been one of the surge's most resolute supporters.
If it turns out that it was only one -- and, perhaps, the least
consequential -- in a confluence of successful American initiatives,
then McCain could go from steadfast to stubborn in voters' minds.
The real wild card pops up if this new surveillance technology allows
U.S. forces to find and kill Osama bin Laden. Bush wouldn't be human if
he didn't desperately want to see the Al Qaeda warlord dealt with before
inauguration day 2009. Moreover, as Woodward writes, the president
frequently relishes the death of individual extremists and insurgents in
a way that even our professional soldiers find striking. Then-American
commander in Iraq Gen. George W. Casey Jr. "told a colleague in private
that he had the impression that Bush reflected the 'radical wing of the
Republican Party that kept saying, "Kill the bastards! Kill the
bastards! And you'll succeed." ' Since the beginning, the president had
viewed the war in conventional terms, repeatedly asking how many of the
various enemies had been captured or killed."
If U.S. special operations forces capture or kill Bin Laden, or if a CIA
technician pushes a button and puts a Hellfire missile between his eyes,
Bush will have made good on the vows he made seven years ago to bring
the Al Qaeda leader to some sort of justice. In the eyes of many who
supported him over the years, that would allow the president to leave
office with at least part of his historical reputation intact.
There also are many Republican activists who must hope that an October
surprise involving Bin Laden would give McCain -- unswerving supporter
of the war and advocate of a muscular, hard-line foreign policy -- a
boost by association. At the very least, anything that makes his
connection to his party's now dismally unpopular president less of a
stigma helps the GOP candidate.
Still, it's also possible that this particular October surprise might
also help Barack Obama, at least at the margins, which is where this
election increasingly looks to be decided. The Democratic nominee, after
all, opposed going to war in Iraq, in part because it was a distraction
from the conflict with the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, which had, after
all, committed the 9/11 atrocities. If a military technology heretofore
monopolized by operations in Iraq finally brings Bin Laden to answer for
his crimes, Obama and his supporters can argue that the war in Iraq
delayed the day of reckoning in Afghanistan.
That's the thing about surprises, no matter what the month: The
consequences frequently are as unlooked-for as the event.
timothy.rutten at latimes.com Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times |
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