WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- It has been 11 months since the Taliban was driven from power in Afghanistan, effectively ending the first phase of the War on Terror.
A great deal was accomplished in the first phase. Even if Osama bin Laden survived the bombing (I'd bet everything I own that he didn't), al Qaida was weakened dramatically.
Some of its most devoted fighters were killed or captured. It has lost tons of weapons. With the overthrow of the Taliban, al Qaida lost its safe haven, and it is unlikely to find another.
By making an example of the Taliban, the U.S. government has made it highly unlikely that any nation sympathetic to al Qaida will ever harbor it. There will always be terrorism, but there are real limits to how much damage a terrorist organization can do if it does not have a secure base.
Without such a base, there is no question of large-scale terrorist training or the development of the more dangerous tools of the trade like biological or radiological weapons.
The successes of the second phase of the War on Terror have been more subtle. As a result, polls have indicated that the number of Americans who believe that we are winning the War on Terror has declined dramatically.
The end of Phase I marked the beginning of al Qaida survivors' lives on the run. Shutting down escape routes was central to Phase II, the hunting of al Qaida operatives. For that reason, many of the most significant developments of the past 11 months have occurred in neighboring Pakistan.
Immediately following the fall of the Taliban, many al Qaida operatives undoubtedly looked to Pakistan as an attractive escape destination, but their allies in the Pakistani extremist community inadvertently managed to make Pakistan a dangerous place for Islamic extremists.
Extremists kidnapped and murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. As a result, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf made the complete destruction of jihadi groups in Pakistan a top priority. Many of the extremists who could have aided al Qaida operatives are in jail. Many more are under tight surveillance.
Musharraf also took steps to stem the flow of fundamentalist reinforcements from Pakistan. He brought the madrasa system under government control. These religious schools were the most important source of leaders and fighters for the Taliban in the early 1990s. Musharraf's decree imposed neutrality on the madrasas.
Musharraf also imposed neutrality on the wild tribesmen of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. His agents have been active, putting tribal leaders on notice that support of al Qaida will carry consequences. He has also allowed American troops to search within the tribal areas with the help of Pakistani security forces.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, coalition forces have been chasing al Qaida operatives all over the country. Because this effort has not produced the bodies of al Qaida's leadership dead or in chains, there is a tendency in the American media to view the operation as a failure.
The media is missing the main point. The main point is that as long as the leaders of al Qaida are running for their lives, their ability to gather and plan future outrages will be severely limited.
One of the worst mistakes the Soviet Army made in its war in Afghanistan was that most of the time its units hunkered down in cities or in their bases and left its Mujahideen adversaries free to plan and prepare for their next surprise attack.
To use a football analogy, the best team in the world usually won't beat you if its quarterback is being chased all game. On the other hand, a below-average team can pick you apart if you put no pressure on its quarterback.
That said, it is undeniable that America would be better off with al Qaida's leaders and most (as opposed to many) of its operatives dead or in custody. So, Phase II cannot be considered a complete success.
In one respect, the coalition is repeating Soviet mistakes. When they located a Mujahideen band, the Soviets usually didn't attack with enough men, so the ring around the surrounded Mujahideen was too thin, and Mujahideen could filter through gaps in the line.
The Tora Bora operation and Operation Anaconda were successful to the extent that they kept al Qaida operatives on the run and even killed quite a few, but neither was the annihilation battle its planners had hoped for.
Although coalition forces were aided by a level of air support that was unavailable to the Soviets, the units involved were not large enough to encircle their prey with an airtight seal, and significant numbers of al Qaida fighters were able to escape. In that kind of terrain, against an enemy who knows every nook and cranny of it, annihilation operations are not a job for battalions or even brigades, but divisions.
So, Phase II has been a qualified success and is ongoing. Operations in Afghanistan (and in Pakistan) have borne fruit, but there is reason to be concerned.
Because of its failure to employ decisive combat power, the Soviet Army allowed the Mujahideen to outlast it. It is true that our forces enjoy a level of public support for their mission that is immeasurably greater than their Soviet predecessors' was.
However, public support is never open-ended. It is possible that al Qaida could outlast us if our armed forces do not employ enough combat power to produce decisive results.
(Thomas Houlahan is the director of the Military Assessment Program of the William R. Nelson Institute at James Madison University.)