Waging the war against terror

Broad strategies called for in rugged Afghanistan terrain

`Have to remove old rules'

Terrorism Strikes America

The Military Response

September 20, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The new war against terrorism could well begin in the dun-colored mountains and the ancient cities of Afghanistan.

Cruise missiles fired from Navy ships in the Arabian Sea strike military and political targets, while F-18 attack aircraft screech through the skies and unleash precision bombs. High-flying B-1 bombers unleash a huge cargo of munitions that obliterates portions of the landscape.

In the Afghan hills, Arabic-speaking Green Berets from Fort Campbell, Ky., call in airstrikes against terrorist camps or link up with guerrilla fighters for the first time since the Vietnam War.

Overhead, small, unmanned drones make long, lazy loops, broadcasting live pictures to commanders, while lumbering spy aircraft zap ground radar installations and vacuum up enemy radio signals.

That could describe the opening battle against exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, his terrorist network and the Taliban government that has shielded him for five years.

The Pentagon has been tight-lipped about how it will wage what President Bush calls the "first war of the 21st century" in retaliation for last week's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but documents and interviews with current and former officials provide strong hints.

In recent days, aircraft carriers and other Navy ships have been moving into position around the Persian Gulf and the northern part of the Arabian Sea, while military planners have been calling up Reserve forces and putting the finishing touches on the armaments and other tools they need to fight. Yesterday, dozens of advanced U.S. aircraft were ordered to the region.

The strategy against terrorists will be "comprehensive and forward looking," states a Pentagon document explaining a request for about $17 billion in additional funding. The money will help pay for increased intelligence capabilities, from human spies to surveillance planes and drones.

The document also proposes "measures to improve offensive capabilities" against terrorism, highlighting special operations forces and precision guided missiles and bombs. As much as $2 billion could be set aside for training troops to battle terrorists, a senior Army general said.

"We're talking about a very broadly based campaign to go after the terrorist problem," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this week. "We intend to put them on the defensive, to disrupt their terrorist networks, and remove their sanctuaries and support systems."

Defense officials say other terrorist groups and their state sponsors, such as Iraq, might be attacked in the weeks and months ahead. "What I have said, as clearly as I know how, is that states are supporting these people," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld and other top administration officials have said U.S. troops and armaments are only one part of the anti-terrorist effort. The State Department will help forge economic sanctions and present other diplomatic initiatives. The FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies are expected to share information with their foreign counterparts, from the location of terrorist cells to the banking services the networks use.

Some military officers caution against expecting too much from the armed forces, saying they can only do so much in this hard-to-define war.

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who commanded U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region until last year, said that in fighting a war against terrorism, "maybe a bigger role" should be played by diplomats, politicians, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Treating terrorists as warriors only enhances their status, said Zinni. They should be considered common criminals, he said, adding, "The point would be, this should not be passed off to the military."

The military usually needs timely intelligence and hard targets, both of which are rare in the shadowy world of terrorism, Zinni said. Terrorists, unlike governments that protect them, have no armies, navies or well-fortified headquarters.

Although Zinni's Central Command tried to capture bin Laden, he was elusive, the general said. "That's basically the problem. He doesn't sleep in the same place twice. He moves around."

Pentagon officials hope to pinpoint bin Laden and other terrorists by sharing intelligence information with countries that border Afghanistan, such as Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Buying more unmanned surveillance drones, spy planes and beefing up other military intelligence capabilities also will help, officials said.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, which provides information tailored to the needs of military commanders, also is looking to recruit human spies, an effort that has languished in recent years, partly because of tight rules that prohibit employing unsavory foreign military contacts.

"We're going to do things that were off the table. You've got to recruit bad guys," a Pentagon official said. "We have to remove the old rules."

A senior military officer said, "With good intelligence, we can do anything."

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