Next stop in the war on terror: Somalia?
U.S. officials are said to be expanding their campaign against Usama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network beyond the mountains of Afghanistan, and a German official in Brussels said Wednesday that the country on Africa's horn is the next likely stop. The question is not if, the unnamed official quoted by wire services said, but when.
Returning on a military plane from Brussels where he attended a NATO meeting, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters that the German official is "off-base." He was expected to elaborate later in the day.
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was not going to speculate on the next operation, but added: "Countries that harbor terrorists worry us. Somalia is one potential country, but there are others as well."
Speculation that round two might be starting was fueled by reports that members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff held a rare all-night meeting at the Pentagon Tuesday night.
Military sources told Fox News that the meeting that included Myers and Rumsfield was aimed at putting the final touches on covert operations that will lead into the next phase of the war on terrorism.
Sources said this phase will include multiple targets in multiple countries excuted all at one time or with in a very close timeline of each other. No time frame for an opening salvo was given.
Outside experts are unsure how this round two will unfold, but they agree that the next stage will not necessarily include daisy cutters, carpet-bombing or U.S. Marines occupying foreign territories.
Instead, U.S. authorities will likely engage in a mélange of tactics that might include — but is not limited to — military force to fight terrorism in places like Syria, Somalia, Iran, Sudan and Iraq.
"Terrorism is a force in many countries and each one can be dealt with in different ways," said Peter Huessey, president of GeoStrategic Analysis, a Washington D.C-based consulting firm. "I just hope the American people and Congress have the fortitude to see this through," he added.
Some in recent weeks have been clamoring for the head of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who has built up his arsenal of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons since kicking U.N weapons inspectors out of his country in 1998. The House of Representatives reinforced that trend Wednesday in a resolution demanding that Iraq comply with the U.N. terms.
"Obviously, they're focusing on Iraq because that story has been unfolding for 10 years," said John Maurer, professor of strategy for the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
But the administration, despite pressure from some circles of Congress to move on Iraq, has been careful on the subject. While President Bush has been vocal about getting the weapons inspectors back into the country, he has not drawn any lines in the sand.
Michele Flournoy, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S. would be remiss to move quickly into Iraq. The U.S. should wait until the Taliban and Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network are squashed in Afghanistan and a new government takes root there, she said.
"I personally believe the question here is timing," she said. "I don't think anyone wants to leave the job unfinished with the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan."
Beyond Iraq and Somalia, the Sudan, Iran, Yemen, Syria are bandied about as countries the U.S. might be turning to next in the war on terror. But only in due time.
"We certainly cannot or should we, attempt to overthrow every government in the region," said Angelo M. Codevilla, a professor of politics and international relations at Boston University.
"But if further attacks come from smaller places like Yemen then we should punish them," he said. Meanwhile, the U.S. will pressure those governments to crack down on organizations before the U.S. is forced to do it on its own.
Flournoy said the United States would be watching Al Qaeda movements closely, as members of the network in Afghanistan will try to escape to safe havens in other countries. Already, officials believe there are Al Qaeda cells in at least 50 to 60 countries.
"If they make it to Somalia or Yemen or somewhere else, my expectation is we will pursue them, using military force if necessary," Flournoy said. "It doesn't mean we will topple regimes in these countries, but we will use force to stop them from setting up training camps and using those places as headquarters."
Several countries have been under watch for years, even decades, for sponsoring terrorism, much of which is directed against Israeli Jews.
Codevilla says the root of this terrorism lies in Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Their causes – Arab nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, anti-Westernism and anti-Zionism – have fueled terrorist networks all over the world, including HAMAS and Hezbollah.
"Killing these regimes would be easy, would be a favor to the peoples living under them, and is the only way to stop terrorism among us," he said in a recent article for the Claremont Review.
Flournoy said it is also critical that the U.S. government works actively with the governments of the Philippines and Indonesia, which have been besieged by Muslim separatist groups and have pledged full cooperation with the U.S. to fight them.
"I think there are a lot of different options being looked at," she said.