Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2001

U.S. begins plotting attack strategy

September 16, 2001


— The outlines of a new U.S. strategy to combat terrorism, born in the flames of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, are beginning to emerge and capturing Osama bin Laden is only a very small part of it.

Bush administration officials say they are resolved not only to put the Saudi-born terrorist out of business, but to destroy the sprawling network of Islamic terrorist organizations he helped create, perhaps strike other terrorist groups and to force countries that support terrorism to halt once and for all.

It's a tall order, and it will take a long time much longer than a single airstrike or ground commando raid into Afghanistan.

"If it takes multiyear, we'll devote multiyear," a senior official said last week. "And I think it's probably a good thing to think that it probably will."

Many of the details still are being worked out. President Bush and his top aides spent Saturday at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, in what one official called "continuous discussions" of the next steps to take.

'Whatever it takes'

But in its broad outlines, the counterterrorism crusade proclaimed in response to Tuesday's attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., is sweeping in its goals and at least in principle unconstrained in its willingness to use force.

"Whatever it takes," Bush told reporters at Camp David on Saturday.

Including ground troops? "The president has not ruled anything out," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The emerging strategy has four major components. One is a sustained attack on the perpetrators of Tuesday's attacks, presumably bin Laden and his sprawling multinational network. Second is a stepped-up campaign against countries that harbor or support terrorists, to deny terrorists the bases they now enjoy. Third is a new worldwide coalition of anti-terrorist nations to carry on the fight. Fourth, new security measures at home to make terrorism more difficult to carry out.

The administration hasn't compiled conclusive proof that bin Laden ordered Tuesday's attack, officials acknowledged. But they believe they are assembling a circumstantial case that will justify U.S. action to capture the terrorist chief, who has been accused of masterminding a string of earlier attacks.

Expelling bin Laden

The U. N. Security Council has demanded that Afghanistan's Taliban regime expel bin Laden since 1999, but the militant Islamic government has ignored the order. U.S. officials say they might go back to the United Nations and give the Taliban an ultimatum a last chance to surrender bin Laden and his followers and then act.

What then? On the military side, officials are "thinking outside the box," U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said management jargon for breaking free of old assumptions.

"One has to think about, if necessary, larger forces. One has to think about accepting casualties," Wolfowitz said in a TV interview. "One has to think about sustained campaigns. One has to think about broad possibilities. And we're trying to present that full range of possibilities to the president."

The goals the administration has set out "will almost certainly require an expeditionary force on the ground in Afghanistan," said L. Paul Bremer, a former State Department counterterrorism chief. "It's going to be a hell of an operation."

Administration officials refuse to say what military options they are considering. But former officials including some frequently consulted by the administration say the options almost certainly include not only airstrikes against bin Laden's bases but also commando operations on the ground.

A longer-range option is to give money, weapons and even direct military support to the Taliban's main opposition, the Northern Alliance. But that course might not be available: the Alliance's charismatic leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, died on Saturday, the victim of suicide bombers who might have been sent by bin Laden.

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