Column: Dispatches From the Edge: Rummy Shelled, Silvio Falls, Iran Strikes

By Conn Hallinan
Friday April 28, 2006

There are any number of reasons why half a dozen retired generals have turned on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but a major one was a disastrous week in the spring of 2002 when several battalions of the 101 Airborne Division attacked insurgents in the Shahikot Valley of Afghanistan.  

Called “Operation Anaconda,” it was a test for Rumsfeld’s New Model Army, a lightly armed, high tech, slice and dice military that relies on spy planes and satellites to map the terrain and identify the enemy. On March 2, about 2,000 airborne troops were airlifted into the valley, where satellites indicated there were some 200 Taliban holed up in villages. 

The troops were sent in without artillery, because under Rumsfeld’s “transformation army” that job was left to “precision bombing” by the Air Force. But there weren’t 200 Taliban, there were at least 1,000. And they weren’t in the villages, but in the mountains overlooking the valley. Unlike the airborne, the Afghans had plenty of artillery, which they proceeded to rain down on the 101st. It also turned out that the satellites didn’t do a very good job of preparing the troops for the terrain, which was far rougher and nastier than they expected. And when the “precision air strikes” came in, the enemy had either moved or gone to ground, a tactic they learned during their long war with the Soviets. 

In short, the whole operation was bungled from start to finish, largely because Rummy’s “transformation” military has more to do with winning elections here at home than fighting battles abroad. Anaconda might have been short on personnel and common sense basics like artillery, but it was hardly war on the cheap.  

Every time the United States tried to root out the Afghans with a AGM-84H air to ground missile, Boeing rang up $475,000. For every GBU-24 Paveway laser-guided bomb (lots of those used), Raytheon banked $55,600. Alliant Techsystems, with its GBU-87 cluster bombs at $14,000 a bang, also did well. The battle was a little rough on the 101st and the Afghans, but it was clover for Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and the arms corporations that supplied the aircraft, the satellites, and the communication equipment (which didn’t work very well). 

Grateful for the silver that “transformation’ has rained down on them, the companies respond by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into elections, 65 percent of which goes to Republicans. Between lobbying and direct contributions, it’s pure “shock and awe” come election time. 

The Army and the Marines don’t think much of the “transformation” military because both rely more on manpower than on high tech firepower (for the Navy and the Air Force, Rummy’s military is pure gravy). The Army is falling apart and hemorrhaging officers at an unprecedented rate. More than one-third of its West Point graduates are refusing to re-enlist, as are reserve officers trained at university programs, another reason the generals have gone after Rumsfeld.  

As investigative journalist Greg Palast points out in The Guardian, however, their fire is off target. Rumsfeld might be an arrogant thug (Nixon called him a “mean little bastard”), but he doesn’t make decisions like restructuring the military or invading Iraq. Those decisions are made by the president and the vice president 

“Even the generals’ complaint—that Rumsfeld didn’t give them enough troops—was ultimately a decision by the cowboy from Crawford,” writes Palast. He also dismisses the “not enough boots on the ground” argument: “The problem was not that we lacked troops—the problem was that we lacked the moral authority to occupy this nation. A million troops would not be enough—the insurgents would just have had more targets.” 

Note: Palast will be in Berkeley June 7 as part of his Armed Madhouse Tour. For a full accounting of Operation Anaconda, see Not A Good Day To Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, by Sean Naylor.  


Most mainstream commentators predict the newly elected center-left government of Romano Prodi is not long for the world. Out of almost 40 million ballots cast, the difference between Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition and the center-left was just over 24,000 votes in the lower house. Election rules will give Prodi 55 percent of the Chamber of Deputies, but in the Senate the center-left has only a two-vote margin. 

But the laid-back, avuncular Prodi is no pussycat. He has now whipped Berlusconi in two national elections, and the math in the senate is better for him than it looks at first glance. The independent seat and the seven senators for life seats tend to lean left, so that Prodi can probably depend on a four or five vote margin. 

Prodi will have to respond to a growing movement in Europe against the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” model of privatizing services and cutting back social support systems. French politicians recently discovered exactly how powerful the sentiment against the dictatorship of the markets can be. 

Italy’s most powerful trade union, the CGI, is demanding a repeal of the Biagi Law, which is similar to the labor law Jacques Chirac’s government was forced to abandon. The new prime minister will also need to respond to the left section of his coalition, which picked up 36 more seats than they held in 2001. 

One immediate problem that will need attention is Italy’s north-south employment gap. Southern Italy has four to five times the national jobless rate of 7.7 percent, and unemployment reaches 40 percent in some areas of the south. 

But Prodi’s natural inclination is toward an economy with a strong social welfare component. During the election he pointed to the U.S. as an example of what he did not want to happen in Italy. “You saw the terrible pictures of New Orleans,” he said, “This was the result of dismantling of social structures…this was the fruit of many years of the breakdown of the social state.” 

He is also strongly opposed to the Iraq war, a stance that has won him no friends in Washington or London. On the other hand, Washington and London have few European friends these days outside of Denmark, Poland, and about one-third of Germany. 


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmandinejad ran on a platform of raising living standards for the average Iranian; after almost eight months in office, according to the Iranian Central Bank, more than 50 percent of the population is below the official poverty line. 

Anger over high prices and stubborn unemployment has sparked strikes in the northern city of Rasht. Textile workers, dam workers, and pharmaceutical workers have also walked out, along with coal miners in the province of Gilan. The miners say they have not been paid in 13 months. 

The authorities in Tehran have detained hundreds of striking bus drivers, and strike leader Mansur Hayat-Gheibi is presently on a hunger strike to protest the arrests. 

Angry pensioners, along with a radical youth group, the National Bolsheviks, protested the end of subsidized heating in central Moscow rally. Most pensioners live on fixed incomes and cannot keep up with rising costs.  

A retired army colonel told Agence France Presse that, “We are following the French example,” of taking to the streets to protest the cutbacks. 

Similar demonstrations were held in Zheleznodoroshny near Moscow, the Siberian cities of Krasnoyarsk and Tomsk, and Yushno-Sakhalisk on Sakhalin Island north of Japan.