WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. troops in Kandahar, the spiritual homeland of the Taliban, are preparing to launch what may very well be the most peaceful offensive yet in a conflict that has now lasted nearly nine years.
Its aim is to weaken the grip of the Taliban and bring calm to the Afghan state, which has so far involved heavy fighting and casualties in that country.
During a press conference this Tuesday, General Patraeus revealed new details about the operation dubbed "Afghan Daisy Chain."
"The enemy has taken horrific actions to disrupt the progress that Afghan and U.S. military elements are working so hard to achieve," said Patraeus. "But thanks to advanced biochemistry, now we can kill them with kindness. I'm excited to announce that the United States will be deploying the world's first flowering landmines in 2010."
Landmines are widely considered to be unethical weapons because they often kill or maim innocent civilians long after a war has ended. Plus, they are difficult and expensive to find and deactivate. This has led to a worldwide effort since the mid 70's to ban landmine use and remove the estimated 100 million landmines now in 70 countries.
President Obama shocked the civilized world when he announced just before the Thanksgiving holiday last year that, like Bush before him, he would not sign the international Mine Ban Treaty - despite a much earlier pledge by former President Clinton that the U.S. would join.
The 1997 treaty was accepted by more than 150 civilized nations, including Muslim countries like Afghanistan and half of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (including Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Algeria), most of sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, every European nation that matters, and the entire Western Hemisphere - except for Cuba and the United States, who join Russia and China in not accepting the agreement.
"Yeah, well, maybe people will change their minds about us when they get a load of these 'bloomin' boomers,'" said Patraeus.
Like most mines, he explained, the new flowering mines are designed to kill or incapacitate people, immobilize or destroy vehicles, degrade unit morale, and cause general mayhem, death, and catastrophic destruction, but that's where the similarities end.
Rather than conventional explosives, the new mines consist of two small reinforced canisters - one filled with pressurized liquid hydrogen and the other with oxygen - that are allowed to combine explosively when the device is triggered. However, setting the mines also opens two incredibly tiny carbon nanotubes, allowing the gases to escape slowly, producing harmless water and gradually reducing the power of any potential blast over the course of about sixteen weeks.
This could, for instance, mean the difference between amputations and mere broken legs in a month or so, explained Patraeus, and would probably amount to no more than a nasty charley horse (a granddaddy or chopper) after less than three months.
In addition, the new earth-friendly land mines are manufactured from a specially polymerized, plant-based, biodegradable thermoplastic known as polylactic acid, which is also designed to break down over the course of about 16 weeks after a mine has been set.
If the mines still have not maimed or crippled anyone by the end of this period, these self-contained biological packets will ultimately serve to nurture seeds encased within the mines, giving rise a few weeks later to fields of diasies where hopeful Afghan children may romp and frolic in flowered garlands instead of growing up to be Taliban fighters.
A brigade of nearly 3,000 U.S. troops, assisted by about 6,000 Afghans, will deploy the mines in many areas of provinces where people are wary because previous military campaigns by Afghan and international troops have harmed civilians.
"We've built relationships with our Afghan counterparts," said Patraeus. "We know the culture. Our battalions have trained in and eaten the same dirt as the people of Afghanistan.
"We're walking a technological tightrope here because we're balancing our need for mines that can not only blast people to smithereens, but that ultimately have a positive impact on the environment," he said. "I think this is the right thing to do."
Insurgent forces are expected to follow suit, deploying landmines that flower into fields of poppies.