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This excerpt from ‘Bombs Away’ by Tom Engelhardt
“1. Success and Failure: Without a hint of exaggeration, you could say that, at the cost of $400,000 to $500,000, al-Qaeda’s 9/11 air assault created Washington’s multi-trillion-dollar Global War on Terror. With a microscopic hijacked air force and a single morning’s air campaign, that group provoked an administration already dreaming of global domination into launching a worldwide air war (with a significant ground component) that would turn the Greater Middle East — then a relatively calm (if largely autocratic) region — into a morass of conflicts, failed or collapsed states, ruined cities, and refugees by the millions, in which extreme Islamic terror outfits now seem to sprout like so many mushrooms. This, you might say, was the brilliance of Osama bin Laden. Seldom has so little air power (or perhaps power of any sort) been leveraged quite so purposefully into such sweeping consequences. It may represent the most successful use of strategic bombing — that is, air power aimed at the civilian population of, and morale in, an enemy country — in history.
On the other hand, with only a slight hint of exaggeration, you might also conclude that seldom has an air campaign without end (almost 15 years and still expanding at the cost of untold billions of dollars) proven quite so unsuccessful. Put another way, you could perhaps conclude that, in these years, Washington has bombed and missiled a world of Islamist terror outfits into existence.
On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda was the most modest of forces with militant followers in perhaps the low thousands in Afghanistan and tiny numbers of scattered supporters elsewhere on the planet. Now, there are al-Qaeda spin-offs and wannabe outfits, often thriving, from Pakistan to Yemen, Syria to North Africa, and of course the Islamic State (ISIS), that self-proclaimed “caliphate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, still holds a sizeable chunk of territory in Iraq and Syria while its “brand” has spread to groups from Afghanistan to Libya.
Minimally, the U.S. air campaign, which has certainly killed enough terror leaders, “lieutenants,” “militants,” and others over these years, has shown no ability to halt the process and arguably has ploughed remarkably fertile ground for it. Yet in response to the next terror outrage (as in Libya recently), the bombs continue to fall. It’s a curious record in the generally disappointing annals of air power and well worth considering in more detail.”