- The Washington Times - Friday, November 23, 2001

No escape

Intelligence sources tell us Osama bin Laden has run out of places outside Afghanistan where any country and group would welcome him.

His best hope is Somalia, the east African, warlord-infested country that was so grateful for American food aid in 1993 that it killed 18 U.S. service members.

The sources say bin Laden has built a large al Qaeda operation in Somalia, complete with infrastructure and caches of arms.

"They have been setting up there for a long time," said a senior Bush administration official. "They have some alternative positions."

Whether bin Laden could hide for long in Somalia, Iran, Sudan or any other rogue regime is doubtful, sources tell us, so he is likely to stay put in Afghanistan and fight to the death.

It was in Somalia that bin Laden henchman Mohammed Atef came to prominence. He traveled from Sudan to Somalia in 1993 and taught the locals to wage guerrilla war on American GIs. Last week, eight years later, the U.S. military finally paid him back. Payment came in the form of two, 2,000-pound bombs that hit a command center south of Kabul, killing Atef and other al Qaeda terrorists.

Contingency plan

Defense officials tell us the Pentagon recently drew up new contingency plans to expand military operations now under way in Afghanistan to Somalia and Sudan two likely places bin Laden and al Qaeda terrorists might go to after their sanctuaries in Afghanistan disappear.

The officials said Somalia is the most immediate place where military attacks might take place. Recent intelligence reports have indicated that arms and equipment are continuing to flow into southern Somalia, where a new al Qaeda base is believed to be taking shape.

The military operations would be similar to the current campaign in Afghanistan a combination of air strikes and missile attacks and special operations commandos on the ground.

Turkish, Iraqi movement

U.S. intelligence agencies have detected the mobilization of some 10,000 Turkish troops on the northern border of Iraq. Officials tell us Turkish forces are ready to begin large-scale military attacks on terrorists camps used by the Kurdish Workers Party, known as the PPK, in northern Iraq.

Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu was asked by reporters last week whether Turkish troops had moved south into Iraq and he replied, "Turkish troops have not entered Mosul. We have no such information." Mosul is located about 50 miles south of the border with Turkey.

Iraq, meanwhile, is conducting its own military operations on the ground in northern Iraq against Kurdish opposition groups, although the exact nature of the action is not known. U.S. intelligence agencies detected Iraqi ground force movements in northern Iraq last week.

Puerto Rican strikes

It didn't take long for Puerto Rican politicians to start a campaign against the resumption of live-fire training on Vieques.

Hours after The Washington Times disclosed last week that two military chiefs want real bullets to fly on the Puerto Rican island, local politicians were lobbying lawmakers to oppose it.

And even before the letter was publicly disclosed, Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon was on the phone to Navy Secretary Gordon England.

She asked him to refuse the impending request from Gen. James Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, and Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations.

The two wrote Mr. England in a private letter that, because of the open-ended war on terrorism, the next battle group to head to the Persian Gulf region should be allowed to use real munitions on Vieques to ensure its readiness levels are at a peak.

"We respectfully request support of a wartime modification of current practice to sanction the use of live ordnance during combined arms training exercises prior to deployment," the two officers wrote to Mr. England.

After speaking to Mr. England by phone, Mrs. Calderon repeated her opposition in a "Dear Mr. Secretary" letter.

"I am disturbed that commandant of the Marine Corps and the chief of naval operations have requested permission to use live fire in its training on Vieques for a limited period next January," she wrote. "All Puerto Ricans support the U.S. military in their war efforts in these dangerous times. Nevertheless, most Viequenses would consider any use of live fire on Vieques a breach of the presidential directives. Such a decision could inflame passions among protesters and create a very sensitive situation for all concerned."

President Bill Clinton ended live ordnance on Vieques in response to local complaints that the four-decade practice was a health hazard. President Bush, courting the Puerto Rican vote for fellow Republicans, announced the Navy must leave in 2003. The Navy is searching for East Coast alternatives.

Chinese help Taliban

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this week that Chinese nationals are among the foreign fighters defending the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. The Pentagon believes the several thousand fighters engaged in fierce combat there are mostly foreign Islamic radicals who would rather fight to the death than surrender. Other foreign forces are said to include Russian Chechens, Pakistanis and Arabs.

Asked about the siege at Kunduz, Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters: "There's Chinese in there, there's Chechens in there, there's Arabs in there, there's al Qaeda in there any idea that those people should be let loose on any basis at all to leave that country and to go bring terror to other countries and destabilize other countries is unacceptable." No details on the Chinese fighters could be learned.

China's government in the past has said that Muslim Uighurs from western Xinjiang province were trained in bin Laden's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

China's government has been trying to squelch anti-American displays in China that have included videos, produced with the help of Beijing's state-run media. The state-run press tells Chinese citizens that the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States were justified by American "bullying" around the world.

A Taliban commander said in a recent interview with an Urdu-language newspaper that China was providing unspecified support for the Taliban and had maintained contacts with the Islamic movement even after U.S. air strikes had begun.

China's government has bristled at suggestions it is not cooperating in the U.S.-led battle against terrorism.

Roosevelt morale

The commander of the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is making round-the-clock strikes on terrorists in Afghanistan, is also making sure his 5,000 sailors stay happy.

He hosts a weekly talk show on the ship's closed-circuit network, showing video of some of his pilots "greatest hits" on the Taliban.

On a rare day off recently, there was a barbecue on the flight deck, complete with volleyball and basketball.

As an added boost, a few New York Yankees took time out to call the ship as they flew home after the seventh-game loss to Arizona.

•Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at [email protected] Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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