Conn Hallinan / Berkeley Daily Planet – 2006-04-28 22:52:38
BERKELEY, CA (April 28, 2006) — There are any number of reasons why half a dozen retired generals have turned on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but a major one was a disastrous week in the spring of 2002 when several battalions of the 101 Airborne Division attacked insurgents in the Shahikot Valley of Afghanistan.
Called “Operation Anaconda,” it was a test for Rumsfeld’s New Model Army, a lightly armed, high tech, slice and dice military that relies on spy planes and satellites to map the terrain and identify the enemy. On March 2, about 2,000 airborne troops were airlifted into the valley, where satellites indicated there were some 200 Taliban holed up in villages.
The troops were sent in without artillery, because under Rumsfeld’s “transformation army” that job was left to “precision bombing” by the Air Force. But there weren’t 200 Taliban, there were at least 1,000. And they weren’t in the villages, but in the mountains overlooking the valley. Unlike the airborne, the Afghans had plenty of artillery, which they proceeded to rain down on the 101st.
It also turned out that the satellites didn’t do a very good job of preparing the troops for the terrain, which was far rougher and nastier than they expected. And when the “precision air strikes” came in, the enemy had either moved or gone to ground, a tactic they learned during their long war with the Soviets.
In short, the whole operation was bungled from start to finish, largely because Rummy’s “transformation” military has more to do with winning elections here at home than fighting battles abroad. Anaconda might have been short on personnel and common sense basics like artillery, but it was hardly war on the cheap.
Every time the United States tried to root out the Afghans with a AGM-84H air to ground missile, Boeing rang up $475,000.
For every GBU-24 Paveway laser-guided bomb (lots of those used), Raytheon banked $55,600.
Alliant Techsystems, with its GBU-87 cluster bombs at $14,000 a bang, also did well.
The battle was a little rough on the 101st and the Afghans, but it was clover for Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and the arms corporations that supplied the aircraft, the satellites, and the communication equipment (which didn’t work very well).
Grateful for the silver that “transformation’ has rained down on them, the companies respond by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into elections, 65 percent of which goes to Republicans. Between lobbying and direct contributions, it’s pure “shock and awe” come election time.
The Army and the Marines don’t think much of the “transformation” military because both rely more on manpower than on high tech firepower (for the Navy and the Air Force, Rummy’s military is pure gravy). The Army is falling apart and hemorrhaging officers at an unprecedented rate.
More than one-third of its West Point graduates are refusing to re-enlist, as are reserve officers trained at university programs, another reason the generals have gone after Rumsfeld.
As investigative journalist Greg Palast points out in The Guardian, however, their fire is off target. Rumsfeld might be an arrogant thug (Nixon called him a “mean little bastard”), but he doesn’t make decisions like restructuring the military or invading Iraq. Those decisions are made by the president and the vice president
“Even the generals’ complaint — that Rumsfeld didn’t give them enough troops — was ultimately a decision by the cowboy from Crawford,” writes Palast. He also dismisses the “not enough boots on the ground” argument: “The problem was not that we lacked troops — the problem was that we lacked the moral authority to occupy this nation. A million troops would not be enough — the insurgents would just have had more targets.”
Note: Palast will be in Berkeley, California on June 7 as part of his Armed Madhouse Tour.
• For a full accounting of Operation Anaconda, see Not A Good Day To Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, by Sean Naylor.