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Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Enough about Tora Bora!

I am sick to death of listening to the absolute BULLSHIT from everyone about Tora Bora. Most of the people that use this name as some kind of talisman for failure have about as much clue about Tora Bora, about Afghanistan, and about military ground operations anywhere as a lifelong resident of Fiji knows about snow. I know about Afghanistan. I know about ground operations, and I know a little about Tora Bora. Even more than that, however, I've SEEN the damned mountains where Tora Bora is located, something 99.9999999999999% of the armchair generals cannot say.


In addition to collecting stamps, I collect atlases and books on aerial photography. Interpreting aerial photography was my job in the military for more than 20 years, and I was good at it. There's not much of the Earth's surface - especially the land surface - that I haven't seen. I also love LANDSAT photography, and have a half-dozen books on that subject as well. I love this stuff, and I know it far better than any armchair general - and quite a few of the real kind.


This map of Afghanistan, from the Encyclopedia Americana International Edition, 1993, Vol 1, pg 244, shows the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a twisting line running from northeast to southwest, then almost due west. It doesn't look as if it's a problem to cross. Compare it with this map from the Hammond World Atlas, Concise Edition, 1993, pg 33, shows that the Afghanistan/Pakistan border falls along one of the highest mountain ranges in Asia. The black boxes on each map show the approximate same area - the area of Tora Bora.



The terrain is hostile. These are relatively new mountains, geologically speaking - younger than the Rocky Mountains in the United States, and higher. Behind the border range with Pakistan, Afghanistan, has many character traits similar to the Basin and Range province of the United States, especially the area used for the Nellis AFB bombing and gunnery range, and the Nevada Nuclear Test area. The land not pushed up into mountains is flat desert. The few rivers are swift, dangerous, and depend almost exclusively on mountain snowmelt for their water.


The Suliaman Range, the Safed Koh, and ancillary ranges connecting them, sit astride the Pakistan - Afghanistan border. It is in these mountains that Tora Bora is located. They run from the Khyber Pass down to around the area of Quetta - almost 200 miles - in a northeast-southwest direction. On one side of the mountains is Khost and Gardez, two towns that were more than tepidly supportive of the Taliban. On the other side of the mountains is Wana and Miram Shah in the NorthWest Frontier Provinces. It's ugly, ugly terrain to fight a war in. One World War II veteran of the Italian campaign said it "reminded him of the Dolomite Alps of Italy, only higher".


I live in Colorado. I've visited Mesa Verde National Park. I can understand why there are still areas of the land around there that's not been adequately explored, and why they found over a thousand new archeological areas of interest after some forest fires a few years ago. I've been to Dog Creek Canyon in New Mexico, about 20 miles south of Alamogordo, where Geronimo hid from US soldiers for a dozen year, and to the Valley of Fires between Carrizozo and Socorro, on the northern edge of the White Sands Missile Range. I've "looked" at White Sands, at the Nellis bombing range, at the desert areas of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. I've seen the imagery of our national border between El Paso, Texas, and Douglas, Arizona, where we can't seem to stop 3000 illegal aliens from entering the United States ever month.


The area around Tora Bora is the most awesomely hostile terrain I've ever seen.


We MAY have been able to corner Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora, but it probably would have taken 300,000 troops and two years to prepare for it. Would he have sat still that long? Would Pakistan have allowed us to move a third of those troops into the NorthWest Frontier Provinces? Would we have been able to secure the ground around the area well enough to allow us to prepare for such an offensive? I can't think that we would have been able to do any of that.


The other strike against US forces is that the people with bin Laden knew the terrain, had lived in it and walked it dozens of times. The US troops got to see the terrain the first time when they went in. We only have so many Special Forces troops - the requirements for Special Forces is deliberately high because the requirements are high. We don't really have a "Mountain Division" - the 10th Mountain Division trains in Fort Drum, NY - not exactly the height of mountainous terrain.


The British failed to conquer Afghanistan, and ended up settling for a limited protectorate. The Soviet Union failed to conquer Afghanistan, and pulled out after losing a huge number of men, billions in equipment, and having the foundations of the very structure of the Soviet Union shaken badly enough the entire nation crumbled less than two years later. The United States tried a different approach - building concensus with tribes, working with the local leaders to build a different type of government, and strengthening the ties between the two countries by building infrastructure, schools, and businesses. We may or may not have killed bin Laden at Tora Bora, but neither he, his followers, nor the Taliban that allowed him to operate freely are now safe to move in Afghanistan. Pakistan is waging a war against "foreign fighters" in the NWFP, establishing a true national presence in the area for the first time since Pakistan was created in 1947.


That may not sound like success, but it may be the only success we can hope for. It may be the best we can ever do, or ever have done. Whining about it, making a mockery of the success we HAVE had, is the behavior of a spoiled child.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

GOOD JOB. IT DOESN'T SEEM TO MATTER TO SOME PEOPLE, THOUGH. AS FAR AS JOHN KERRY IS CONCERNED, THOUGH HE'S NEVER BEEN THERE, HE KNOWS TORA BORA IS AN EXTREMELY HOSTILE TERRAIN, BUT CHOOSES TO DOWNPLAY IT AND PLAY ON THE IGNORANCE OF OTHERS. I CAN'T TELL YOU HOW MANY TIMES I'VE HEARD PEOPLE SAY THAT "THEY HAD OSAMA IN TORA BORA AND LET HIM GO." TORA BORA ISN'T REAGAN, TX. THANKS FOR YOUR KNOWLEDGE, EXPERTISE, AND YOUR SERVICE. LINDA WAUGH

11:17 AM  
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5:43 AM  

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