- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

Pentagon officials believe Somalia is an early success in the 6-month-old war on terrorism, as diplomatic pressure and intensive surveillance have prevented al Qaeda from re-establishing operations on the Horn of Africa.
The United States is so pleased with developments that it has reduced the amount of aerial spying over Somalia and scaled back the amount of military training devoted to a potential conflict there, a senior administration official said this week.
"We took a good look and decided it was overrated," the official said.
Somalia is one example of what officials believe are significant early achievements in the anti-terror war.
A U.S.-led military campaign has removed Afghanistan as a base for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to plan and mount attacks on America. Bin Laden is believed to be neutralized, either dead or wounded and on the run somewhere in eastern Afghanistan or Pakistan.
In the Philippines, American-backed army troops are tightening the noose relentlessly on an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf, on the country's southern Basilan island. Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity second only to Afghanistan, has agreed to host Army Green Berets. The soldiers will show local authorities how to continue to attack al Qaeda terrorists roaming the country's ungoverned northern border.
"I think they've accomplished a great amount; there is still a lot to do," said Ivan Eland, a military analyst at the Cato Institute. "They took out the regime that was providing a sanctuary for al Qaeda. And they also knocked out a lot of the terror infrastructure in that country."
Mr. Eland also credits the military and CIA with killing bin Laden's top operations chief, Mohammed Atef, and the capture last month of Abu Zubaydah, a top al Qaeda official, who may know where scores of terror cells exist around the world and what they are planning.
The analyst said his main criticism is that President Bush is putting troops in too many countries and thus detracting from the main goal of smashing al Qaeda and eliminating bin Laden and his top aide, Ayman al Zawahiri.
"This idea that everybody is a terrorist is a big problem for me," Mr. Eland said. "Most of the groups on our terrorist list don't attack the U.S. We are fighting everyone's battle for them."
In the Philippines, Adm. Dennis Blair, who as head of U.S. Pacific Command is running the operation to train local troops, said great progress has been made.
"I drove to an area where Basilan citizens are returning to homes they had left months before because of the terrorism practiced by the Abu Sayyaf group, and I saw new homes being built," Adm. Blair told reporters Tuesday.
"I saw a new mosque that was built by the citizens of Basilan, and the Philippine armed forces," he said. "I talked to Philippine soldiers and U.S. soldiers who were working together in order to restore security for the people of Basilan. So I have been very, very encouraged by the progress that has been made in six months."
Somalia had been a major trouble spot as the war in Afghanistan began Oct. 7. Al Qaeda operators had run camps there, and Pentagon officials privately talked of the country as the next war theater. Bin Laden once put his operation headquarters in the Sudan and sent his terrorists south into Somalia to train recruits. The country appeared to be fertile ground for an al Qaeda relocation.
The Army readied Special Forces teams to enter the country and help local authorities root out al Qaeda cells. U.S. Central Command in Florida stepped up surveillance flights of Navy P-3 Orions, and coalition warships inspected vessels heading across the Arabian Sea from Pakistan.
But an administration official said that, as of this week, intelligence reports on al Qaeda in Somalia are at best "sketchy" and "conflicting."
"On the whole, whoever is there is probably not al Qaeda and not worth the effort," the official said.
The administration is not eager to return American GIs to Somalia, an improverished nation where warlords have fiercely controlled swaths of territory. A 1993 U.S. mission to feed thousands of starving Somalis went awry when warlord fighters turned on American troops and prompted President Clinton to end the operation.
Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim, Somalia's foreign minister in a transition government trying to unify warring factions, said in an interview he sees no reason for terrorist-hunting troops to enter Somalia again. He said American representatives have toured the country and found no active terror camps.
"We cooperated with the international community to find out whether there are camps for al Qaeda or not," Mr. Ibrahim said. "It is a positive assessment. There are no camps in Somalia."
Mr. Ibrahim, the transition government's foreign minister, said he also dispatched aides to inspect the country and collect information from nomadic tribesmen. No trace of camps turned up, he said.
"Even the term 'al Qaeda' is the first time the politicians have heard about it," he added. "There's no justification for United States forces to attack. There is no threat of camps existing in the country."
Asked whether bin Laden would be welcomed in Somalia, Mr. Ibrahim said, "Absolutely not."
U.S. officials are concerned about the Somali Islamic Union, or al-Ittihaad al-Islamiya. This group contains Islamic extremists who want to impose a Muslim government on the country.
A defense official says Somalia's lack of a central government or adequate security forces makes it "a potential haven for some al Qaeda terrorist members."

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