Operation anaconda: war propaganda

Whether the largest U.S. Military operation so far was such a success, despite the dropping of thousands of bombs, is doubtful – but success is necessary

Hardly anyone will really believe the official announcements of warring parties (Rumsfeld: Pentagon does not peek). Nevertheless, it is astonishing how much the Pentagon still relies on propaganda and the short-term memory of the people – and the media, which want to report the latest news. The most recent case is "Operation Anaconda", the largest battle involving U.S. Ground troops in Afghanistan – and also the one with the most losses for the U.S. So far. Hundreds of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters have been reported killed, demonstrating the success of the U.S. Military machine. This cannot be confirmed so far, everything looks rather as if the roughest combat action was a flop.

Operation anaconda: war propaganda

Operation Anaconda. Photo: Pentagon

It was striking that at the beginning of the struggle in Shah-i-Kot, there was only talk of 100 or 200 fighters. When then the death of American soldiers had to be reported, one fought then at least already against 1000 to the auberste determined opponents, who were in the best way equipped, and killed also "Hundreds" of them, even though even then people were reluctant to make their success dependent on the number of enemies they killed. General Richard Myers said in the presence of Defense Minister Rumdsfeld: "While we’ve hit resistance, there should be no doubt about the outcome in this case. The only choices for al Qaeda are to surrender or to be killed." Soon, however, reports began to come in that the fighters of the Afghan allies or soldiers spoke of only a few dead and claimed that most of the opponents had fled.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld attempted to make his case with regard to the "success" of Operation Anaconda, in which at times more than 1,000 U.S. Troops faced an unknown number of fighters and U.S. Aircraft dropped thousands of bombs in hundreds of flights over the 50-square-kilometer terrain: "There are clearly a lot of people willing to guess at those numbers. I’m not one of them." Other members of the U.S. Military, however, had reported "several hundred dead" . Apparently, less than 20 bodies have been found so far, and less than 30 people are said to have been captured. In any case, Rumsfeld tries to keep everything open and speculates that perhaps many of the dead are still in the caves or have already been buried. But if they were buried – the story of the alleged 300 ordered coffins – then there had to have been people who quietly ordered coffins "ordered" and buried the dead to disappear afterwards. Therefore, if Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said at a press conference on the successful end of Operation Anaconda yesterday: "It’s just not going to be very useful to put a number to it", so this can be understood ambiguously.

The Pentagon is also reluctant to see reports from fellow soldiers in Afghanistan who claim that most of the Taliban or al-Qaida fighters have escaped. The borders are not sealed, some may have already fled, Clarke said, but by no means many: "but if they have it’s been in the ones and twos." Saif Mansour, who is said to have commanded the fighters, could not be captured either.

Operation Anaconda. Photo: Pentagon

The story with Shah-i-Kot resembles that of Tora Bora in December of last year. Here, too, there was a massive bombardment, bin Ladin or other senior al-Qaida leaders were suspected in the hollow system, and Afghan warloards were hired to help fight on the ground. But money, in addition to possible popular sympathies and the tendency of Afghans to agree to a free-withdrawal cease-fire, could have played a role in both cases in allowing so many to escape. If what the Christian Science Monitor reports is true, al-Qaida fighters had a lot of money and were able to pay locals to be smuggled into Pakistan. From one village alone, between 28.11. To 12.12. 600 people were taken out of Tora Bora in 2001. Moreover, an Afghan lieutenant who was supposed to guard an escape route on behalf of commander Hazret Ali is said to have received more money from the fleeing al-Qaeda fighters than from Ali. That is why he is said to have described to them the way to Pakistan.

In order to possibly have something to show for it, 16 people were killed on Sunday by the American military, who were sitting in three vehicles and had allegedly returned warning shots. It is assumed that they were fleeing, but no details are given. On 6. March, 14 people, including women and children, had already been killed by the firing of a car. The U.S. Military said that while it was not known whether they were really Taliban or al-Qaida affiliates, it was definitely a "good target" been.

The mystery remains, where the survivors of the material battle should have remained, if there should have been really up to 1000 or more combatants and not only a handful. Thousands of bombs – over 3.000 – have been dropped by American and French planes over the region. By 12. March, according to the Pentagon, 2.500 bombs had been dropped. Newer types of bombs, such as thermobaric bombs, were also used (War Games 2002) – and the whole effort was probably only to defeat a few dozen enemy fighters? Can this really be called "an unqualified success" as General Franks has done to highlight the efficiency of the U.S. Military and to award medals to the media??

As Prasident Bush does not hesitate to point out, one stands "in the middle of battle", which would also continue in Afghanistan. The American people must be "patiently" . And in order to maintain this patience, as well as to receive the demanded increases in the defense budget, the operations must of course be successful as well. Bush then exaggerated his praise for the successful Operation Anaconda, while at the same time yesterday he again called into question Saddam Hussein and the rest of the "Achse des Bosen" drohte:

"I feel like we’ve got a lot more fighting to do in Afghanistan. First of all, we were successful in Operation Anaconda. I want to thank our troops, our brave troops, for fighting in incredibly tough terrain, and against difficult circumstances. And the difficult circumstances were not only the terrain, it was the fact that we were fighting against an enemy that refuses to surrender. These are people that are there to die. And we accommodated them."

Ob tatsachlich einmal Klarheit uber die Operation Anaconda erlangt werden wird, darf bezweifelt werden. It would also be unacceptable, should there be no independent investigation, to speculate more precisely about the victims or the number of people who fled. But if the numbers known so far are even close, there is at least a striking disparity between the military force used and the strength or number of opponents. In other words, the hitherto highly praised high-tech military machine fails when it is not confronted with larger groups that can be dislodged by flat bombardments, but only with smaller groups that do not really defend their positions in the long term, but quickly disperse and regroup in small groups. Of course, this was not a new insight, because not least in Vietnam and also in Afghanistan, the highly ruffled troops of the superpowers have given up the fight against the guerrillas. But it might be a realization that could help the "war on terrorism", as the Bush administration also envisions it as a political tool, than heroic soldiers, successful military technology, and rough victories.

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