- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

The declared end to major combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan puts the U.S. military on a new path in which covert action and stabilization take a front seat in the war on terrorism.Analysts say the first phase in the war on terrorism is now in a global mop-up operation. The military is rooting out resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq while hunting the remaining leaders of an al Qaeda terror group that, while still dangerous, barely resembles the robust organization that carried out the September 11 attacks.”The tactical effort is an al Qaeda cleanup,” said John Hillen, a national security adviser to President Bush’s 2000 campaign. “That could still take several years. We’ve broken al Qaeda as we know it, strategically.”The Pentagon is slowly reducing a force of about 135,000 troops in Iraq, where the major mission has shifted to snuffing out the remnants of Saddam Hussein loyalists, while starting a new government and rebuilding long-neglected infrastructure.Officials say a stabilization force of 80,000 to 100,000 American troops is likely to remain in the country for the next one to two years. The troops will be augmented by international peacekeepers.In Afghanistan, Pentagon planners say most of the country is free of hard-core Taliban fighters and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda operatives. The one trouble zone is the border area with Pakistan, where Islamist supporters of bin Laden provide cover for guerrillas moving in and out of Afghanistan.A brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, backed by special-operations forces, makes up the bulk of the 10,000 allied troops in Afghanistan.”One encouraging sign is that most of the violence we are seeing is along the border,” said a U.S. military officer assigned to U.S. Central Command. “There doesn’t really seem to be any support for the bad guys in Afghanistan proper. Instead, there is a bunch of disaffected people who are unable to operate more than a few miles from their safe haven in Pakistan. That’s a good sign.”Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Afghanistan yesterday, where he declared an end to major combat operations, 16 months after coalition troops ousted the Taliban from power. “We are at the point where we have clearly moved from major combat activities to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities,” Mr. Rumsfeld announced after meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai.Hours later, Mr. Bush landed aboard the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and in a televised address last night told the nation that major combat had ended in Iraq, too.Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech yesterday at the Heritage Foundation, said the administration is still thinking up new ways to combat terrorists.”How do you contain rogue states willing to provide terrorists with weapons of mass destruction?” Mr. Cheney asked. “How do you deter terrorists who have no nation to defend and who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to kill Americans? These problems will define a new era in American foreign policy.”The Pentagon now conducts major counterterrorism operations in four key areas. Three of them come under U.S. Central Command.Those three areas are Afghanistan, al Qaeda’s previous base of operations; Iraq, where Saddam is believed to have maintained ties to terrorists; and the area around the Horn of Africa, where a task force is watching such countries as Yemen and Sudan for any attempt by al Qaeda to establish a foothold. So far, the task force has not started any major combat operations.The fourth major area is Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, where American special forces have trained and directed the local army in combating the Abu Sayyaf, an al Qaeda-linked terror group.The U.S. ouster of the Taliban turned up al Qaeda documents that pointed to an al Qaeda-related group in Asia called Jemaah Islamiah, or JI, as American intelligence refers to the group.The documents enabled Singapore to foil a major terrorist attack by JI on American targets. Interrogation of those arrested revealed the extent to which the group is trying to overthrow pro-Western governments in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.Jemaah Islamiah militants are blamed for the Bali nightclub bombings that killed about 200 people, mostly tourists, in Indonesia last year.”They are just now starting to become clear,” said a senior U.S. defense official. “We want to nip it in the bud.”Manila and the Bush administration are discussing a new mission for U.S. troops to return to the Philippines to help the army fight not only the Abu Sayyaf, but also Jemaah Islamiah.”Their goal is to destabilize the southern Philippines,” the official said, referring to the terrorist groups.What’s next in the war, officials say, will be increased reliance on covert operators, as opposed to a third full-fledged military campaign. Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force troops and CIA paramilitaries will attack terrorists in small groups around the world, as opposed to carrying out an all-out war. The CIA and FBI will work with various governments to encourage them to arrest al Qaeda operatives.Mr. Hillen said to look for the kind of counterterror operations now carried out in Pakistan and Yemen to spread to other places. Possibilities include Iran, Syria, Palestinian territories and Indonesia.Where governments are in place, he said, the United States will attempt to get their approval. In weak states, such as Sudan and Somalia, the administration will enlist direct military action.”There are some parts of ‘what’s next’ that are already ongoing,” Mr. Hillen said. “The Horn of Africa, I think, is going to get pretty hot.”Mr. Hillen also said the administration is beginning to think about the next radicals to emerge from the Islamic world.”The smart people are going to be thinking forward to what follows al Qaeda,” he said. “We know that terrorism is a phenomenon, not an organization. It takes different forms every time we see it. What form will it take next, and where will it crop up?”

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