- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Army Special Forces have formed anti-terrorist units and are training for missions in Somalia, but as of last week the United States lacked sufficient intelligence on al Qaeda to start a mission inside the impoverished East African nation.
Senior administration officials say Green Berets in the 5th Special Forces Group have practiced missions against terrorist compounds. They also have been briefed on Somalia's gallery of warlords who might protect members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, some of whom fled Afghanistan and are presumed to be in Africa.
But the inaction, to date, in launching strikes on any military target outside Afghanistan points up the difficulty President Bush's war on terrorism faces: The targets have become smaller, scattered and harder to isolate.
When the war began Oct. 7, U.S. strike aircraft and commandos were able to attack al Qaeda fighters in clusters, killing and capturing hundreds. But with their Taliban protectors ousted from power in December, al Qaeda foot soldiers dispersed and scrambled for cover in Afghanistan, or fled to nearby countries, including Somalia. In these small groups, al Qaeda does not present ripe targets for Green Beret "A Teams" or precision air strikes.
"There is not enough intelligence on Somalia right now on which to base an attack," a senior administration official said last week.
There are about 3,500 Green Berets. The 5th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., provided most of the Special Forces who are operating today inside Afghanistan. The group is assigned to U.S. Central Command, which is running the war in Afghanistan and oversees U.S. military actions in the Arabian Sea-Persian Gulf regions.
Most U.S. action aimed at Somalia since September 11 has come in the form of stepped-up satellite and aerial surveillance to keep an eye on suspected al Qaeda training camps and meeting places. The Navy has stationed warships off the coast to intercept any of bin Laden's men trying to sneak across the Arabian Sea in tramp freighters to Somalia where they could reconstitute the al Qaeda training network.
A possible Somalian target is a fundamentalist group called al Itihaad al Islamyay, or Islamic Unity. It has ties to bin Laden himself. Mr. Bush in September said Islamic Unity is one of 27 groups that finances terrorists and he asked foreign banks to freeze any assets.
Somalia's prime minister, Hassan Abshir Farah, has urged Washington not to strike his country and promised to arrest terrorists identified by the United States.
The surogate method is the administration's evolving strategy to smash al Qaeda. Two nations, Yemen and the Philippines, are now hunting, and sometimes, killing al Qaeda-linked fighters with U.S. assistance.
Mr. Bush's aides acknowledge that sizable numbers of al Qaeda fighters slipped across Afghanistan's leaky borders into Pakistan and Iran.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld believes the exodus has gone further. He said some al Qaeda have spread beyond neighboring countries, heading toward the Middle East.
Iran has "been quite accommodating to al Qaeda people transiting from Afghanistan through Iran towards the Middle East, various countries in the Middle East," Mr. Rumsfeld told National Public Radio. "It's now pretty clear that the al Qaeda have fled in large numbers.
"They've drifted into the mountains, they've drifted over borders," the defense chief added. "These are serious people. And we didn't catch them all. We didn't kill them all, as hard as we've tried. And it is not possible to do that. … And so we have an effort going on to try to run them down."


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