U.S. Wades Into More Imperial Outposts

U.S. Wades Into More Imperial Outposts

Well, let’s see. The Brits have declared "Operation Snipe" (if nothing else you have to acknowledge a certain understated Brit sense of humor there), the latest two-week effort to round up al Qaida remnants, to be successfully completed. From the news reports there’s little evidence that the operation accomplished much of anything, but it engaged a few troops for a while.

With all the news from the Middle East, it has almost begun to escape public attention that there are still about 7,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan – and that they may well be in more imminent danger, of a relatively low level but constant – than was the case when the Afghanistan incursion began.

Although you occasionally hear a call from some writer for the Weekly Standard or National Review call for beefing up the U.S. presence to something more like 50,000 troops so we can whip the place into line and set it up like a proper colony or dependency, but to an almost surprising extent the commitment in Afghanistan has become more background noise than front-page news. Many Americans probably think that with the capture of Kabul the war has been won. Most of the media, who don’t seem to be able to handle more than one war at a time, are turning elsewhere.


For those 7,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, however, the commitment is very tangible, and quite possibly more stressful and dangerous than in the early stages of the war. As we remember occasionally, Osama bin Laden is still at large and, most experts seem to think, still alive and perhaps capable of creating future mischief.

The current U.S. mission, according to the New York Times, is to continue search-and-destroy missions against al Qaida and Taliban forces who have dispersed into mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border. They’ll be working both sides of the border, sometimes in cooperation with Pakistani forces. As the Times notes, "The operation also carries considerable risks: of suffering American casualties, of mistakenly attacking the wrong people, of being misled by faulty intelligence and of inflaming local hostility to foreigners on Afghan soil."

Nonetheless, when asked, U.S. officials say the American troops will be operating along the border at least into the fall. Although most of the U.S. troops remain in Kabul, some are committed to the mountain-border campaign and still others are spreading out to maintain contact with Northern Alliance commanders who have become regional warlords. A three-star general has just replaced a two-star as commander of ground operations in Afghanistan, which suggests that the Army is preparing for a long-term commitment.


The interesting thing is how much all this activity has become simply background noise for most Americans. The imperial troopers are in another country. So long as there aren’t a lot of body bags being heavily covered by the media, it’s just part of the global mission.

We have troops in the Philippines now. Yawn. They’re going after something called Abu Sayyaf or something that might or might not have a current connection to al Qaida. No body bags yet, so no problem.

Likewise we have fairly active operations going on in Yemen and maybe in Somalia, all in addition to active military bases in Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Okinawa. The global reach of the United States knows few bounds.


It should probably occasion little surprise then – although one might wish that it occasioned a moment or two of dismay – that the United States is busily involving itself in a trio of long-running conflicts in South Asia. As Scott Baldauf reported recently for the Christian Science Monitor, the United States is meddling in Sri Lanka, the island formerly known as Ceylon, in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, and in Nepal.

In Sri Lanka, the United States has decided to back a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire that is now in its fourth shaky month between ethnic Tamil guerrillas and the ruling government. However in the last few weeks there has been evidence that the Tamil Tigers have been using the cease-fire to rearm themselves. Three weeks or so ago the Sri Lankan Navy captured three boats packed with heavy weapons destined for the northern Tamil stronghold. The Sri Lankan military is also beefing up its armament.

The United States has sent emissaries to the Tamil regions to warn the guerrillas that it really doesn’t approve of the rebellion. If the rebellion returns to an active military phase, however, the United States might find itself drawn ever further into a conflict that has been going on for some 23 years.

But we’re the Sole Superpower and presumably we can handle it.


In the Himalayan region of Kashmir, tenuously ruled by India but riven by independence movements that may or may not be backed by Pakistan, is in a relatively quiescent phase but could flare up again. Last October an attack by Kashmiri militants killed 40 people in the summer capital of Srinigar. In December Kashmiri guerrillas attacked the Indian parliament in New Delhi.

These incidents came rather close to bringing India and Pakistan – never the best of neighbors and both now armed with nuclear weapons – to the brink of war. About a million Indian and Pakistani troops are still on a virtual wartime footing along the Indian-Pakistani cease-fire line.

Efforts to create something resembling real peace rather than a stand-off have failed repeatedly, and the region has seen conflict off and on since 1947. But U.S. diplomats are said to be stepping up efforts to bring about – some would say impose – a settlement in the region. Again, if conflict flares up the United States could be drawn in more deeply. The U.S. has decided it really wants Pakistan involved in the putative war on terror, but the government is not exactly stable or democratic, and things could get touchy.


Perhaps the most dangerous and the most difficult-to-resolve dispute into which the United States has decided it simply must insert itself is in Nepal, the Hindu Himalayan kingdom where a brutal Maoist insurgency launched in 1996 has led to the deaths of some 3,500 Nepalese, most of them civilians.

Nepal hit the news last June when the crown prince massacred King Birenda and much of his family. After a three-month cease-fire the insurgents stepped up the violence. The Royal Nepalese Army is something of a joke and the guerrillas seem to be better organized than ever. The new king declared a state of emergency last November, which gives the government (and especially the army) sweeping powers. The violence has scared away tourists, who are an important part of the country’s economy in more normal times.

Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has been traveling – to Washington a week ago and to Great Britain – and the Bush administration is ready to provide a $20 million military aid package for the Nepalese government. The rebels may or may not have declared a cease-fire. The situation is fluid – or in other words, extremely dangerous.

As Kanti Bajpal, a security analyst at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Christian Science Monitor Scott Baldauf, "All these conflicts have a common feature of not being at an end. Everyone is split and in doubt; everyone is waiting for everyone else to make the first move."

Sound like wonderful places to demonstrate the ability of the Sole Superpower to bring order out of chaos no matter the difficulties.

Author: Alan Bock

Get Alan Bock's Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana (Seven Locks Press, 2000). Alan Bock is senior essayist at the Orange County Register. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995).