- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) — American forces in and around Djibouti are negotiating a diplomatic thicket while they hunt down terrorists lurking in the Horn of Africa, a mission that is only 30 days old and already promises to last a long while, according to the Marine general in charge of the force.

Maj. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, told reporters on a Pentagon conference call Friday that the ability of suspected al Qaida terrorists to slip cross national borders had complicated the relationships between the Americans and the various local authorities in the region.

"Anything that we do will, in fact, be coordinated and orchestrated with them to make sure that we know exactly who has the authority and who we need to speak with, and in some cases, who on our side … needs to make the call for the final clearance," said Sattler.

Sattler leads up a force that includes 400 crew members aboard the USS Mt. Whitney, which is floating off the coast of Djibouti, and another 900 sailors, Marines, soldiers, airmen, and Special Forces troops that are ensconced at the heavily fortified Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.

Their mission: to work with the host nations to ferret out terrorists operating in the rugged region.

"The border with Somalia is a place we're looking hard at, as well as the coastline of the Gulf of Aden," Sattler said.

"We have not gone forward and actually conducted any attacks on any terrorist cells or training camps yet," Sattler said. "We need to be patient because we need to be correct — absolutely correct — when in fact we come forward and identify a particular location as a training site or a camp harboring terrorists."

With his command team acting as the continuous link, Sattler is working with the governments of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djbouti, Yemen, Sudan and Kenya to coordinate their efforts.

In some cases, he said, terrorists may be arrested by a host nation's law enforcement agencies and put through their legal system; in others cases lethal force may be brought to bear.

One example of such force was last November when a CIA-operated drone armed with Hellfire missiles destroyed a car carrying a suspected al Qaida leader along a rural road in Yemen.

"I guess what I would say is one (option) would be militarily to attack and destroy it, if in fact we couldn't go ahead and arrest them to bring them to justice," Sattler said.

In the meantime, Sattler's small army is devoting a good deal of time and energy developing intelligence on the terrorist groups that frequent the region.

"I would tell you that there's a lot of activity to be collected upon, that it's hard also to decipher what is just normal activity moving across borders at different points and moving across the Gulf Aden, and what may in fact be either the smuggling of weapons, munitions, explosives, or individuals in and out of some of the countries," Sattler said.

Of particular concern is the threat to the Mt. Whitney and other U.S. ships from small boats packed with explosives. One such kamikaze boat blew a massive hole in the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen in Oct. 2000, and more recently, a terrorist vessel badly damaged a French oil tanker in the same region last October.

"A lot of our intelligence collection is focused on areas where these types of boats could, A, be stored; B, be moved to and launched from," Sattler said.

Just the act of collecting intelligence is pressuring the terror networks, according to Sattler.

"We feel very confident that by virtue of breathing down their necks, looking at them through multiple intelligence sources, and collecting (intelligence) on them through multiple sources, that we are in fact disrupting (and) keeping them off balance until we can go to that next phase which is defeat, i.e., bringing them to justice," he said.

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