The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on Nov. 16. Then, Operation Enduring Freedom was in its seventh week. Some have suggested that the United States should halt or scale back its military operations — specifically the bombing — in Afghanistan in observance of Ramadan. Pakistan’s General Musharraf — a key ally in the U.S. campaign — has said, “The attacks should not go on during Ramadan because that would have very negative effects on the Muslim world.” Other Muslim leaders and organizations have expressed similar sentiments. Even British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon has said that a pause in the bombing for Ramadan is “something we are looking at very seriously.” And, without doubt, Britain is the United States’s staunchest ally.
While Ramadan is a consideration, it should not dictate military strategy. Yes, the United States needs to concern itself with how the more than one billion Muslims around the world might view and react to continued U.S. bombing during Ramadan. But it is important to remember that the U.S.-led war on terrorism is not being waged against Muslims, but rather against Osama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda terrorist network, and the Taliban regime that has provided them harbor.
Indeed, the United States needs to remember what its primary goals and objectives are, as stated in the Joint Resolution issued by the Congress on Sept. 14: “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” America must remain steadfast in pursuit of these goals and objectives and not allow itself to be distracted, dissuaded, or deterred from achieving them.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted “there have been any number of conflicts between Muslim countries, and between Muslim countries and non-Muslim countries, throughout Ramadan.” According to Secretary of State Colin Powell, “we cannot make [Ramadan] the sole determining factor behind what we do militarily.” And National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice is correct when she stated that the war on terrorism “can’t afford to have a pause,” even during the month of Ramadan.
Historically, Ramadan has not stopped Muslims from waging war. In 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat launched a war against Israel during Ramadan. Iran and Iraq fought through eight consecutive Ramadans without pause. Even the Prophet Muhammad himself fought during Ramadan (reclaiming Mecca from pagans in AD 624). So certainly there is some precedent for continuing the war. But perhaps most importantly, as Secretary Rumsfeld said, “The Taliban and Al Qaeda are unlikely to take a holiday.” And neither should the United States.
But if the United States is going to continue its bombing in Afghanistan during Ramadan, the targets and objectives should be specific. The targets should be distinct, militarily relevant targets to minimize unintended civilian casualties. If the United States is concerned about the so-called public relations war, it needs to make every effort to avoid pictures and news stories about civilians killed by the bombing. And the goal of any continued bombing should be to prevent the Taliban from reinforcing, re-supplying and regrouping.
If opposition forces are not ready to mount a serious offensive before Ramadan and the onset of winter, the United States needs to do what it can to ensure that the Taliban does not use the delay to strengthen its forces. Toward such ends, one reasonable strategy to pursue would be shift targeting away from population centers (e.g., Kabul) and concentrate on Taliban forces in the field.
Ultimately, the United States cannot afford to lose sight of its primary objectives: bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. And everyone should remember why this war is being waged: More than 5,000 innocent Americans — as well as citizens from more than 50 other countries — killed by terrorists who have twisted Islamic theology to suit their own murderous cause. The United States cannot allow those who have perverted Islam to hide behind it, and neither should the rest of the Muslim world.