- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

As America positions its military forces in preparation for an all-out war against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, it is still not clear what kind of a war this will turn out to be.
The administration is marshaling the mightiest military coalition ever assembled in human history against bin Laden and his fanatic followers. It is calling on every means at our disposal including unholy alliances with some of our foes to find and exterminate them. But as the days of preparation pass, the administration has had to remind itself to slow down a little and proceed cautiously to avoid costly mistakes.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told the nation last week that the United States would soon offer detailed documentation of the terrorists' connection to bin Laden's forces. They backed away from that a day later for fear of exposing the breadth of intelligence sources at its command: from satellite, intercept data monitored by the National Security Agency to Pakistani intelligence, to its sources among Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, which is fighting the ruling Taliban regime and may have contacts with some of bin Laden's supporters.
But as war options are being studied, the most likely war scenario is coming into sharper focus.
This is going to be a guerrilla war of relatively small, covert Special Forces trained in the art of counterterrorism and rapid-strike actions, backed to the hilt by U.S. support from the air, cruise missiles, cluster bombs and the like.
The anti-Taliban rebels, the Northern Alliance, which has been shelling Taliban-held positions and has even taken new territory in the past week, will probably be in the vanguard of this U.S.-backed military action.
But the immediate military goal may be, not the seizure of bin Laden, but the quick overthrow of his protectors and chief source of support, the murderous Taliban regime, which is hated by much of the starving Afghan population who want an end to their oppressive rule.
President Bush has repeatedly said the United States will smoke bin Laden and the terrorists out of their hiding places in Afghanistan's mountainous terrain. But how will it be done?
"Bin Laden, who has gone into hiding, will be extremely difficult to target with cruise missiles or air strikes," says foreign policy analyst James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation.
"The best prospects for capturing him and punishing the Taliban leadership that gives him safe harbor would be commando operations executed by air-transported special forces that are supported by helicopter gunships and airborne assault troops," Mr. Phillips says. Detailed intelligence will be "crucial for such an operation," which is why the administration's first diplomatic action was to seek out the support and cooperation of Pakistan, "which has the best intelligence assets inside Afghanistan."
First and foremost, we must give the Afghan Northern Alliance rebels, who have been fighting the Taliban militia since it took power in 1996, whatever they need to succeed economic assistance, weaponry and tactical air support for their raids.
"These forces have fought the Taliban to a standstill without American help. With our help, they could march on the ruling Afghani leaders in Kabul," said Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, a member of the House International Relations Committee.
What is the likely endgame in this strategy? "Once the Taliban is overthrown, bin Laden and others like him will have nowhere to hide," says Mr. Phillips. We will have him on the run, and his days will be numbered. Without his leadership and wealth, the terrorist cause and its global reach will be substantially crushed.
Mr. Colin Powell has thus far skillfully handled the administration's rapid, coalition-building campaign, pursuing a classic divide-and-conquer strategy that is effectively encircling Afghanistan and cutting it off from outside military support.
Enlisting the support of the Pakistanis dealt the Taliban and bin Laden's forces a huge blow. Now, in an unexpected move, the administration is reaching out for support from Iran, which issued a surprisingly tough statement of condemnation in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Iran is on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism because of its support for the Hezbollah in Lebanon. But Iranian leaders remain bitterly opposed to the Taliban rulers. They see them as a future threat to their own security. Iran may be secretly providing the United States with information about bin Laden's whereabouts and could be ready to join the U.S.-led coalition against him.
The noose is slowly but surely being tightened around bin Laden's neck. He is losing his support and protection in the region. He is a fugitive in what was once his undisputed sanctuary in Afghanistan. It is now only a matter of time before he and his lunatic followers will die.

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