Next stop in the war on terror: Somalia?
The question remained unanswered Wednesday as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld corrected wire reports quoting a German official in Brussels who said the African horn nation is the next likely stop in the war against terror.
"The German was wrong. He didn't mean to be but he was flat wrong," Rumsfeld told reporters following his return from Brussels where he attended a NATO meeting.
Rumsfeld said he only mentioned Somalia when he listed a series of countries that shelter or sponsor terrorists or are trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. No U.S. forces are currently in Somalia for pre-engagement actions, he said.
That doesn't mean Somalia is not on the list of potential targets. As U.S. officials consider expanding their campaign against Usama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network beyond the mountains of Afghanistan, Rumsfeld warned nations that allow terrorist cells to operate out of unruly provinces in their borders.
"We have made it very clear for a period of months that if these people go somewhere else, we'll go find them. If I were involved in a country that was a likely prospect for their next home... I would want to try to clean out that crowd, too," he said, referring to Yemen's latest efforts to rid its region bordering Saudi Arabia of militant fanatics. Rumsfeld cited Colombia, Sudan, Somalia, Georgia, Colombia and the Phillipines as all nations with lawless regions.
Speculation that the military is planning its next operations heated up Wednesday after 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 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.