WASHINGTON – The war on terror will not end in Afghanistan.
U.S. military officials are making it clear publicly that Afghanistan isn't the only country where American forces are fighting — or planning to fight — terrorist networks.
They won't say where, but other areas known as hide-outs for terrorist Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network include Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and the Chechnya region of Russia. All are predominantly Muslim, with vast, war-ravaged areas under little or no central government control.
The Afghanistan war's commander, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, gave one of the strongest indications yet about the shadowy aspects of the U.S. military campaign. Speaking to The Associated Press Tuesday on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, Franks said overt and covert U.S. military operations are "going on in a great many places."
Those operations "are designed to do away with these pockets of terrorism," Franks said without giving details.
"I think General Franks was being vague for an obvious reason," said Army Col. Richard Thomas, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which Franks heads. "There's a lot of stuff going on. Some of it you get to report, some of it you don't."
Defense Department officials have said they are focusing on rooting out Al Qaeda and their former Taliban sponsors from Afghanistan. They also have stressed that the fight won't end there, and have mentioned several countries where Al Qaeda operates or that sponsor terrorism.
One of those countries is Yemen, the native country of bin Laden's wealthy construction magnate father, the late Mohammed Bin-Awad Binladin.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker on Wednesday denied reports that the United States had asked Yemen to allow U.S. forces to participate in the hunt for Al Qaeda members there. Yemeni troops have been searching for members of the terrorist network since Dec. 18, and at least 24 soldiers and six tribesmen have been killed.
U.S. officials hold Al Qaeda responsible for the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in a Yemeni harbor which killed 17 sailors.
In Somalia, guerrillas believed to be trained by bin Laden's group shot down two U.S. helicopters during a 1993 peacekeeping mission, resulting in the deaths of 18 American soldiers. Americans have been meeting with local Somali leaders recently and the Pentagon has said they are not from the military.
Bin Laden spent several years living in Sudan, which borders Somalia, before leaving for Afghanistan in 1996. The United States hit a Sudanese factory with missiles in 1998 in response to the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Although Al Qaeda was linked to the bombings, controversy continues over whether the Sudanese plant was making chemical weapons components, as the United States claimed, or pharmaceuticals.
Bin Laden's network also has ties to Chechnya, the breakaway Russian region where Muslim fighters have battled government troops for years. Russian President Vladimir Putin has portrayed the fighting as Russia's battle against terrorists, and U.S. criticism of Russia's handling of the conflict all but disappeared after Sept. 11.
U.S. military officials also are quick to point out that Al Qaeda is believed to have operations in 50 to 60 countries worldwide, leaving open the possibility of military action in other countries as well. President Bush has criticized Iraq for refusing to allow United Nations weapons inspectors into the country, although he has not linked Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.