The following editorial appeared in Sunday's Washington Post:
The war in Afghanistan isn't over, and the struggle against international terrorism is just beginning. The danger to Americans here and abroad remains acute. This is no time to relax. But the unexpectedly quick crumbling of Taliban rule does offer an opportunity to reflect. The first lesson, obvious perhaps but too often taken for granted, is that the United States is defended by armed forces of skill and courage. As details of the current campaign emerge, we will doubtless learn of snafus as well as exploits, but the overall picture is one of professionalism by pilots, special forces and the soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines who support them -- all volunteers.
If you hit, hit hard: That seems to be a second lesson. When U.S. pilots began bombing frontline Taliban troops with great force, military successes reinforced each other. Initial signs of weakness in the Taliban encouraged defections and uprisings among many who had waited for signs of U.S. seriousness. Aid groups and others calling for a bombing pause were wrong. Decisive victory opened the way for aid that could never have been delivered if the Taliban had remained in control.
Never underestimate people's desire to live freely: This is a lesson we seem to have to relearn every time. When the United States began its intervention, some military experts warned of likely defeat, citing the Soviet misfortune. Other experts pointed to factors distinguishing the two wars: The United States was not seeking to occupy the nation; the Taliban, unlike the anti-Soviet, CIA-backed mujaheddin, would receive no support from surrounding nations.
Few, though, highlighted what may have been an essential difference: that the Soviet Union was seeking to impose an unwanted form of rule, while the United States was liberating Afghans from repression. It's always dangerous to attribute views to a large population, especially of a country without democracy, but initial reports from Kabul and elsewhere suggest many Afghans are delighted to be casting off their veils, shaving their beards, flying kites, listening to music and speaking freely. Many seem grateful for U.S. intervention, not angry over bombs dropped on their country. Not that America deserves great credit for selflessness; the nation showed scant interest in liberating Afghanistan before Sept. 11. President Bush last week referred to the Taliban as "the most repressive, backward group of people we have seen on the face of the earth in a long period of time," but until two months ago its removal was not on his agenda. It's still worth remembering, though: Military operations are easier when you are acting in the interest of the civilian population. It's at least fair to wonder whether many Iraqis would not similarly welcome liberation.
War is unpredictable. That is a lesson for commentators who a week ago were decrying the failure of U.S. strategy, but it's equally a warning not to assume the next objective, or every objective, will be attained as quickly and with so little loss of life.
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