Striking back at sources of terror Bombing raids: U.S. acts like a superpower, doing precisely what it said it would do.

August 21, 1998

THE U.S. military strikes on a terrorist training complex in Afghanistan and a chemical plant in Sudan are somber events, responding both to the Aug. 8 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and to expectations of more.

President Clinton said on Aug. 8, "We will use all the means at our disposal to bring those responsible to justice no matter what or how long it takes."

Yesterday he spoke of compelling evidence of more terrorism planned against U.S. and other targets. He identified the Saudi expatriate, Osama bin Laden, for the first time openly, as the author of many atrocities.

The crisis comes at a time when the people of this country demand leadership and the protection of U.S. citizens serving their nation abroad. But also when many Americans distrust President Clinton's motives and alleged cynicism. Some of the people now doubting the need for these military strikes had deplored their absence in the days before.

The cruise missiles were aimed not at host governments but targets within countries whose regimes were branded pariahs by Washington. Both have been making hints in recent weeks at the possibility of improving relations. This is now at risk. The down-sizing of U.S. facilities in several countries and partial evacuation of U.S. nationals from Pakistan earlier in the week can now be understood.

These strikes were insistently described at a Pentagon briefing as pre-emptive rather than punitive. They follow impressive forensic and police investigation of the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassy bombings, including interrogation of a major suspect. They also follow close upon growing identification by high U.S. officials of Mr. bin Laden as a principal funder and organizer of terrorism and sworn enemy of this nation.

Afghanistan's Taliban regime inherited the protected presence of Mr. bin Laden when it took power. It has insisted that he has promised not to mount terrorism from sanctuary. By its action, Washington disputes this claim.

The United States does not recognize this regime, citing it for human rights violations and heroin export. Such Islamic fundamentalists as the regime in Iran denounce its medieval treatment of women. Mr. bin Laden is now a bargaining chip that the regime in Kabul can use to improve relations with Washington, if Taliban leaders wish.

The Sudanese regime of spiritual leader Hassan al-Turabi and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stands accused of abetting terrorism in North Africa, acting as agent for Iran's export of revolution and enslaving and starving its people.

That regime, shaky under increasingly bold southern rebellion, is seeking friends and modifying its virulence. The existence of the chemical plant hit in Khartoum, which Mr. Cohen linked to Mr. bin Laden's desire for nerve gas production, had been unknown to the public until yesterday.

U.S. diplomacy with Islamic countries that had been ambivalent about these matters is paramount. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two difficult allies or former allies, are crucial. Pakistan played a key role in delivering the major suspect in the Nairobi bombing.

Such regimes know that the U.S. is in no way at war with Islam, only with terrorists who cite Islamic motive. These terrorists are themselves at war with Islamic regimes and a threat to many. People throughout the Islamic world are hoping these military attacks hit the right targets.

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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