Somalia 'Success' Blunts Al Qaeda Campaign

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 18, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Somalia 'Success' Blunts Al Qaeda Campaign


Byline: Rowan Scarborough, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Pentagon officials believe Somalia is an early success in the 6-month-old war on terrorism, as diplomatic pressure and intensive surveillance have prevented al Qaeda from re-establishing operations on the Horn of Africa.

The United States is so pleased with developments that it has reduced the amount of aerial spying over Somalia and scaled back the amount of military training devoted to a potential conflict there, a senior administration official said this week.

"We took a good look and decided it was overrated," the official said.

Somalia is one example of what officials believe are significant early achievements in the anti-terror war.

A U.S.-led military campaign has removed Afghanistan as a base for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to plan and mount attacks on America. Bin Laden is believed to be neutralized, either dead or wounded and on the run somewhere in eastern Afghanistan or Pakistan.

In the Philippines, American-backed army troops are tightening the noose relentlessly on an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf, on the country's southern Basilan island. Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity second only to Afghanistan, has agreed to host Army Green Berets. The soldiers will show local authorities how to continue to attack al Qaeda terrorists roaming the country's ungoverned northern border.

"I think they've accomplished a great amount; there is still a lot to do," said Ivan Eland, a military analyst at the Cato Institute. "They took out the regime that was providing a sanctuary for al Qaeda. And they also knocked out a lot of the terror infrastructure in that country."

Mr. Eland also credits the military and CIA with killing bin Laden's top operations chief, Mohammed Atef, and the capture last month of Abu Zubaydah, a top al Qaeda official, who may know where scores of terror cells exist around the world and what they are planning.

The analyst said his main criticism is that President Bush is putting troops in too many countries and thus detracting from the main goal of smashing al Qaeda and eliminating bin Laden and his top aide, Ayman al Zawahiri.

"This idea that everybody is a terrorist is a big problem for me," Mr. Eland said. "Most of the groups on our terrorist list don't attack the U.S. We are fighting everyone's battle for them."

In the Philippines, Adm. Dennis Blair, who as head of U.S. Pacific Command is running the operation to train local troops, said great progress has been made.

"I drove to an area where Basilan citizens are returning to homes they had left months before because of the terrorism practiced by the Abu Sayyaf group, and I saw new homes being built," Adm. Blair told reporters Tuesday.

"I saw a new mosque that was built by the citizens of Basilan, and the Philippine armed forces," he said.

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