THIS TIME THERE'S A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH

We're in Round One of a 30-rounder, and after only a monthlong bombing campaign, the doubting Thomases are already saying we're bogged down in another no-win war. These naysayers -- many of whose entire counterinsurgency experience, apart from office politics, consists of movies like "Apocalypse Now" -- are comparing our efforts in Afghanistan to Vietnam.

This is pure nonsense! There's no similarity except that the terrain in both hot spots favors guerrilla warfare, and both opponents are clearly fanatics skilled at hit-and-run ops.

Our opponent in Vietnam was fully backed by the Soviets, the Red Chinese, the former Warsaw Pact countries and an international peace movement that included many more Americans than we had soldiers in Vietnam.

Our fight with the Taliban and with international terrorism, on the other hand, is a just war in which we have the moral right. Sept. 11 got us into this conflict, and long before 9/11, the Taliban provided sanctuary and support to bin Laden's murderers as they prepped and launched their strikes on America.

The Reds were based out of Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam, where they trained and licked their wounds. And from the beginning of the war until its bloody end, the communist bloc supplied the Viet Reds with tanks, MIGs, SAM missiles and other gear. Also, by the end of the war, both the Viet Cong and eventually the North Vietnamese army units that reinforced the VC in the south had the backing of the majority of the South Vietnamese people, who supported their efforts with volunteers, supplies and intelligence.

China's Mao Tse-tung likened a guerrilla war to fish and water -- the fish being the insurgents, the water the people. In the case of Vietnam, the pool was very deep, and as the war dragged on, it got deeper and was stocked with more and more communist fish.

But the Taliban army and bin Laden's al Qaeda forces are already fish in a dried-up swamp heading for the frying pan because they don't have the support of the majority of the people. The Taliban is a rogue gang that took over Afghanistan at gunpoint and has employed terror and genocide to stay in control. It has neither nation-state supporters nor sanctuaries in border countries where it can either stockpile supplies and equipment needed to fight a strong opponent coming at it from all directions or else run to when things get hot. And to make things worse, the Taliban has an armed adversary composed of its own people - supported by the United States, Russia, China, Iran and scores of other countries -- who want its collective head on a pike.

Sure, there have been mistakes. And there will be more as the politicians patch the warring tribes that oppose the gangster government into a united anti-Taliban coalition. Because these tribes are like our Hatfields and McCoys, we'll need all of Colin Powell's diplomatic schmoozing to forge them into a cohesive team and then hold it together. But it will be done. Just as our fighter jocks and "snake eaters" and those of our allies are getting their act together a little better with every mission.

The high stakes in this long and different kind of war -- freedom and our way of life -- are exactly the same as in World War II, but the way it will be fought will be far different. Unlike when we went after Hitler and Tojo during the Big War, insiders say that U.S. conventional units won't be taking ground in Afghanistan. Instead, the troops that take out the Taliban will be made up of Afghan fighters supported by Special Ops folks and U.S. and Allied air power.

Winning Round One -- Afghanistan -- is more than doable, but it won't be easy. No war ever goes according to plan or is casualty-free. So there will be reverses, and more Americans will come home on stretchers or in body bags.

But despite the know-it-all doom-and-gloom gang, Round One will soon move to the mop-up stage. And when the bell rings for Round Two, Dr. Germ and the Mustached One better have a deep bunker.

America will win this long war.

As with WWII, we have no other choice.

http://www.hackworth.com is the address of David Hackworth's home page. Sign in for the free weekly Defending America column at his Web site. Send mail to P.O. Box 11179, Greenwich, CT 06831.

(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.