- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

Well, there they go again. The Washington Post has already concluded that only innocent civilians were killed by the Feb. 4 American missile strike at Zawar Kili, Afghanistan. Getting your daily exercise by jumping to conclusions will not slim the waistline, but can easily lead you wrong, as it has here. The timing of the Post's conclusion coincides closely with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's criticism of President Bush's labeling Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil." Mr. Daschle counsels restraint and diplomacy. The two are of a piece originally written by Neville Chamberlain. The Post's article is also a beginning of a serious challenge to the president's decision to loosen the reins on the CIA.
CIA operatives fired the missile, convinced that the target was a group of high-ranking al Qaeda members. More than one member of the group was over six feet tall, perhaps leading the CIA to hope that one was Osama bin Laden himself. Some days later, a special operations patrol reached the site. Soon after, Doug Struck, a reporter for the Post, tried to barge in on their work. Mr. Struck seems to believe that the on-scene commander treated him without the dignity he deserved. Mr. Struck says that he was told, "This is an ongoing military operation," by the commander who gasp refused to identify himself. He was also told, "If you go further, you would be shot." Given the situation, this is perfectly reasonable.
At the outset of the Afghan campaign, National Public Radio sent reporters there to find and report on the location of special operations troops. It is fortunate that they did not, both for our troops and for the Banana Republic-outfitted Gen Xers. The troops could have had their position exposed, and the NPR kiddies would, at best, have found themselves duct-taped to a tree for several days. In Zawar Kili, Mr. Struck had to scavenge evidence from local villagers who told him our troops don't know who they're shooting. The fact that our troops found tattered pieces of airline schedules at the site certainly indicates that the people killed were not innocent locals gathering scrap metal.
Last month Mr. Bush reportedly removed some, but not all, of the constraints on the CIA's ability to target individual terrorists for assassination. President Ford's 1976 executive order precluding assassinations may not be good policy today, given the new kind of enemy we have. Before we take weapons out of the CIA's hands, we'd better have an alternative method of dealing with a new enemy in a new context. None comes readily to mind.


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