Thursday, September 16, 2004

GWOT: The Score Card

Since the Bush/Cheney campaign has made the global war on terror a central piece of their re-election campaign, I would like to take a look at how well we are doing in this war. The following is a critical analysis of the current efforts in the Global War on Terror (aka GWOT). Because of controversy as to the importance of the Iraqi conflict in GWOT, I've left it out of this analysis on purpose.

The hunt for Bin Laden

Never mind the fact that Rumsfeld seems to be confused as to who is who, there is one clear fact in the current war on terror: Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida were responsible to 9/11. This is the bottom line on that particular incident. The efforts to root out the Taliban, a longtime supporter of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, and to hunt down Osama in that region were a very good idea. So let's look at how successful we are there.

Well, first of all, we haven't capture Osama yet so that can be seen as an issue. However, we can assume that Al Qaida has been crippled, right? That it is at this point where it can't do anything bad. Well, not quite... According to Maj. Gen. Eric Olson:
the military had not intercepted any radio traffic or instructions from either bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. But he said the involvement of well-trained foreign fighters in attacks near the Pakistani border convinced him that the fugitive leaders were pulling the strings.

"What we see are their techniques and their tactics here in Afghanistan, so I think it is reasonable to assume that the senior leaders are involved in directing those operations," Olson, the operational commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, said in an interview.
With less than 10,000 troops on the ground, Operation Enduring Freedom (the Afghan front in GWOT) , we seem to be losing ground:
Olson said some militants attacking U.S. forces along the Pakistani border with mortars and rockets expertly adjust their aim — betraying a level of training not commonly seen among Taliban fighters.

Arabs, including Saudis and Yemenis, were among fighters recently detected in Kandahar province. Russian chatter was intercepted by radio monitors in the former al-Qaida stronghold of Khost, suggesting Chechen and Uzbeks were operating there, he said.

The Pakistani army has carried out a string of bloody raids on its side of the border in an area considered a possible hide-out for bin Laden. Olson praised the "very successful" Pakistani operations, but suggested that only political and economic developments in Afghanistan could defeat the insurgency.

American and Afghan officials predict that militant attacks which have also killed dozens of aid workers and government officials will intensify with the approach of Oct. 9 presidential elections.

"I don't think we're close at all" to defeating the insurgents, Olson said, but insisted organizing a successful vote could convince many opponents to give up the fight.
Considering how things are going, it's interesting that neither Rice nor Powell really want to speculate as to Bin Laden's whereabouts. And of course, there's the matter of how much safer we are. According to the FBI, Al Qaida is preparing an attack for the fall. Are you feeling safer yet? So you'd assume that the CIA is working overtime on this. Well, there's only one problem (or set of problem) in terms of that:
Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the CIA has fewer experienced case officers assigned to its headquarters unit dealing with Osama bin Laden than it did at the time of the attacks, despite repeated pleas from the unit's leaders for reinforcements, a senior CIA officer with extensive counterterrorism experience has told Congress.
.
The bin Laden unit is stretched so thin that it relies on inexperienced officers rotated in and out every 60 to 90 days, and they leave before they know enough to do meaningful work, according to a letter the CIA officer has written to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
That can be a real issue if you are trying to hunt the guy down and don't have the tools to do so. So, just looking at the hunt for Bin Laden, the Global War on Terror does not seem to be that successful.

Homeland Security

The good news on homeland security is that there hasn't been an attack on the North American continent since 9/11. So one could say that homeland security is working but let's not go so fast. There are still some issues. For example, our ports are still largely left unprotected, due to some issues of funding. While the Bush administration is talking up its record on homeland security, it has not worked very hard at funding initiatives:
The Maritime Transportation Security Act - passed by Congress in 2002 to make terminal sites more secure - suffers from a fundamental flaw: It has no financing mechanism, and nobody wants to pick up the tab for improvements the act requires.

The Coast Guard has estimated that upgrading the nation's maritime sites and vessels to meet the law will cost about $7.3 billion between 2003 and 2012. But the $491 million in grants Congress has issued to ports and vessels to improve security in the past three years - about $163 million a year on average - won't come close to meeting the 10-year cost estimates if the spending patterns continue. For many sites, the new costs include adding security personnel, new access-control methods, fencing and high-tech surveillance systems, and periodic reviews.

The port industry - the terminals, vessels and factories that ship goods out of the ports - contend it's the federal government's responsibility to make up the difference. But the Bush administration says the industry should foot most of the bill. Congress has yet to find a way to pay for the requirements that it put in place two years ago.

The result: Three years after Sept. 11, 2001, there's still no telling when the anti-terrorism initiatives to shore up security at ports will be paid for. At the current spending levels, it would take 44 more years to meet what the act requires by 2012. "In other words, at this rate, the United States will put a man on Mars before it achieves effective port security," Joseph F. Bouchard said. He's the retired commander of Norfolk Naval Station and now works for ZelTech, a Hampton company helping to integrate the Virginia Port Authority's security program.

Other possible scenarios of terrorist attacks include taking control of a large ship and crashing it into a bridge; sneaking into the country by merchant ship; blowing up a vessel carrying volatile fuel vapors to cause environmental disaster; seizing control of a passenger ferry; and crashing into a Navy vessel.

This could be a pretty major problem but could be ignored it it were only one article covering the issue. However, it seems the problem is very widespread. For example, California ports are currently largely unprotected, leaving us seriously at risk:

The Port of Los Angeles has spent less than a tenth of its homeland security money. When asked to name the port's most significant security accomplishment since 9/11, officials cite the creation of a five-year plan.

Local security directors blame the federal government for shortchanging the nation's 361 seaports. Together the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles estimate they need $500 million to protect themselves. So far, they've received a combined $27.6 million.

Indeed, funding for ports pales in comparison with airport security funding, despite the sense among many terrorism experts that seaports may be the next logical avenue for those intent on attacking the nation.

If we are to truly fight a global war on terror and secure the homeland, this kind of penny pinching seems penny wise and pound foolish. You may think that this kind of effort is ridiculous and that little would come out of doing what's right anyway but the potential impact of an attack could be very expensive. And this is not a partisan issue, Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, chairman of the House of Representatives Maritime Transportation Security Subcommittee, sees technology as a way to help:

With the magnitude of the problem, it just sounds loud and clear that we can't do it with manpower alone. We're going to have to do it with technology.

... and the magnitude of the problem is so high that Dr. Stephen Flynn, a Senior Fellow for National Security Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations, presented a real doomsday scenario:
Flynn told the sparsely attended hearing in Washington, D.C. that an attack carried out using a cargo ship -- or even just one of the many containers that a ship carries -- could have the effect of halting shipping trade until a response could be formulated.

"They'd have to shut it down and sort it out," he told the subcommittee.

"A two-week shutdown of U.S. ports would collapse the global trade system. That's what we're talking about," Flynn said.

"This is an extremely soft target for America's enemies to exploit," he said.

...

"I very much fear if the investments are not made," said Flynn, "I'm giving fodder for the next blue ribbon commission to ask why did we leave America grossly unprepared."
By the looks of it, it seems we are unprepared on that front. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Senate seems to see terrorism more as a political issue than an actual issue of national security. Highly targeted areas are not as well protected as they should be and, when the two Democratic senators from New York, which was the target of the last major attack on US Soil, introduced a bill asking for funds to help with protection, they were denied them:
Schumer said continuous security efforts in New York have been hampered by a lack of federal funding. Clinton has proposed an amendment to redistribute funding to states based on threat levels rather than population as it is done now. The Senate task force gave Homeland Security funding priorities an "F" for failing to adequately supply high threat areas.
This is very worrisome and leaves me to believe that the homeland is far from secure and that the war on terrorism has an unprotected open front right here at home.

Conclusion


So does that mean that the Bush/Cheney campaign only wants to use GWOT as a rethorical device to be used expressly for political purpose. Or is it serious about it? As Fox is proud of saying, we report, you decide.

4 Comments:

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Dave

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