T wo weeks ago, Paul Wolfowitz, the US under secretary of defence, compared Afghanistan to a swamp, which must be drained to catch the snakes that hide there. His analogy may be rather more apt than he intended. Swamps, as everyone knows, are harder to get out of than they are to get into.
On Sunday night, the west took its first, irreversible step into the morass. It may well prove to be the only simple one on an ever more uncertain journey. But there is now no going back. Once you have initiated military action, you are committed to it, and all further adventures in Afghanistan need be armed. It is not clear that either the British or the US governments has fully grasped the implications.
Yesterday morning, some 15 hours after the air strikes began, the United Nations announced that it had halted convoys of food to Afghanistan. From now on, and for as long as the conflict lasts, the humanitarian aid that both Blair and Bush promised would be an integral component of this campaign must be delivered primarily with the help of the armed forces. But they don't seem to have any idea what this responsibility entails.
The military answer to the country's crisis so far has taken the form of 37,500 yellow ration packs, dropped from transport planes into regions in which hungry people are believed to live. Each pack contains around 2,200 calories: roughly enough to sustain one person for one day.