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  Terror War Goes Beyond Afghan Border

By John J. Lumpkin
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, Oct. 28, 2001; 1:47 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON –– The war on terrorism is focused on Afghanistan. But already, America is sending military advisers to the Philippines to rout out terrorists. Iraq could become a target if it's linked to any attacks.

And the war could carry even farther – perhaps to Somalia, Chechnya or Sudan, and perhaps quickly – if Osama bin Laden tried to slip out of Afghanistan.

Eventually, the war on terrorism could have a long target list, one that stretches into all corners of the world.

Many U.S. officials already characterize the attack on bin Laden's al-Qaida group and its supporters in Afghanistan, the Taliban, as just the first battle in a long campaign. But they say future battles haven't been planned.

"Our first priority right now is to deal with the al-Qaida network and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and wherever else it is located around the world, wherever else it has host countries supporting al-Qaida," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday.

"And then, in due course, we will turn our attention to other sources of terrorism which are so destabilizing in the world," he said. "And we'll keep a close eye on Iraq during that whole process."

The form of the conflict could change with the location. Because terror groups rarely operate as openly as they did in Afghanistan, there aren't many targets for bombing strikes. In some places, any actions would be entirely covert, or be headed by native police and military forces who expose terrorist cells.

Already, about 30 U.S. military advisers are training Filipino troops to fight Abu Sayyaf, a group of Islamic extremists supported by bin Laden.

Should bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders run from Afghanistan, the war could follow them to likely hideouts in Somalia, Chechnya or Sudan – all lawless places where bin Laden has supporters.

The conflict also could escalate if the United States openly pursues cells of al-Qaida and its affiliates in countries outside Afghanistan.

In addition to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, allies of al-Qaida seek to overthrow the secular governments in Egypt and Uzbekistan. Bin Laden has also been linked to groups in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, Yemen and other Arab countries.

"There may be military strikes on non-Afghan sites down the road," said Daniel Benjamin, a former National Security Council staffer and terrorism expert now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"A lot will depend on the speed and success of the campaign in Afghanistan and the ability thereafter to keep the Islamic world from getting too heated up about it," Benjamin said.

A wider war could come if U.S. intelligence linked another country or terror group to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, or to the anthrax attacks.

Iraq is frequently mentioned as a candidate. While the United States is aware of several meetings between Iraqi officials and al-Qaida in recent years, U.S. intelligence has uncovered no credible evidence linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some want to hit Iraq regardless. Iraq continues to shoot at U.S. and British aircraft patrolling no-fly zones over the country, and continues to pursue chemical and biological weapons.

The United States could further escalate the war by attacking Islamic terrorist groups not closely aligned with al-Qaida. Most of these groups oppose Israel, and many are supported by Iran and Syria. They operate from Lebanon and occupied Palestinian territories.

But Iran and Syria, both listed as state sponsors of terrorism, have been at least minimally cooperative with the United States since Sept. 11.

Iran remains the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism, according to the State Department. It directs at least some of the operations of Hezbollah, which attacks Israel from Lebanon, and supports Hamas, which operates in Palestinian areas. Hezbollah has one of the most extensive worldwide terrorist networks after al-Qaida.

But Hezbollah and Hamas haven't directly targeted U.S. interests in some time. And perceived U.S. entry into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could wreck the fragile coalition of Arab nations supporting the Afghanistan strikes.

"That would be a very big step if they took action against Hezbollah," Benjamin said. "It's tough not to be concerned about Hezbollah and Hamas, but al-Qaida represents to the United States a threat of far greater dimension."

The governments of Sudan and Libya, two more listed as state sponsors of terrorism, also have been providing intelligence to the United States since Sept. 11.

A final escalation – one not seriously talked about, but not ruled out, either – would be U.S. involvement in conflicts against non-Islamic insurgencies in friendly nations. The State Department lists terrorist groups – usually Marxists or ethnic separatists – operating in Colombia, Greece, Japan, Peru, Turkey, Spain and Northern Ireland.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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