On Point: On to Baghdad or Somalia or Yemen or ...


by Austin Bay

The forward deployment of U.S. Third Army headquarters to Kuwaitmarks the beginning of "Military Phase Two" in America's Millennial War.

Third Army, also referred to as ARCENT, is the U.S. Armyground-force component of Central Command.

The real estate agent's adage, "Location is everything," mustcome to mind. With a major U.S. headquarters in Kuwait, the obvious first,second and third thought is "on to Iraq."

But don't bet on it. Kuwait offers a politically secure,pro-American command site in a volatile region -- at the moment that's theemirate's primary appeal.

Afghanistan isn't over. For that and several other reasons,Somalia and eastern Yemen, two anarchic terror-havens, make more sense asnear-term military and diplomatic targets.

Thus the drop in "on to Baghdad" decibels from Bushadministration officials.

Certainly, Saddam Hussein's execrable regime is on America's hitlist. It has to be, and credit Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitzwith having the spine to insist on it. Though Saddam's direct connections toAl Qaeda remain murky, global terrorism has a home and hub in Baghdad.

Even before Sept. 11, the United States had ample reason totopple the wretch. Saddam's violated every post-Desert Storm agreement.

That being said, American diplomacy needs time to create theconditions for military action against Iraq. The Clinton administration'sAugust 1996 disaster still cripples U.S. efforts. That's when Saddam used aninternecine Kurd struggle to attack and destroy the CIA-backed dissidentbase in northern Iraq. Credible reports suggest scores of anti-Saddam Iraqiswere captured and executed.

The Middle East is far too complex and paradoxical a place tosay one mistake or one provident act is a turning point. Yet the Gulf Warpolitical coalition truly began to fray in the wake of that U.S. failure toblunt Saddam's 1996 assault. The resulting fiasco seeded long-term doubtsabout American commitment and reliability.

While U.S. actions since Sept. 11 have helped erase thosedoubts, solidifying Iraqi dissidents and configuring Kurd guerrillas as ananti-Saddam army aren't the only issues. Shaky sheiks, rattled by Osama binLaden and other radical Islamists, are another time-demanding problem.

Yet U.S. successes in Afghanistan have produced politicalmomentum. New information sources (particularly information gleaned fromdefecting Taliban and captured Al Qaeda fighters) have increased what thespy crowd calls "the granularity" of American intelligence. Though the"clean-up phase" of military operations in Afghanistan will be difficult,the pay-off is already evident.

In particular, the roots of Al Qaeda's African and Arabianpeninsula networks are showing. Western press sources report that otherSomali groups are ready to rat out al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (Islamic Unity),an armed radical faction linked to bin Laden. Al Qaeda has other supportersin Somalia and is closely tied to Islamist leaders in the Somali"transitional government." The Somali Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA,headquartered in the town of Baydhabo) has already offered troops as well asa base for U.S. operations against Al Qaeda sites and support nodes inSomalia.

Yes, that's a dicey offer, though as Somali factions go, the RRAhas little truck with Islamists. In fact, the RRA is allied with Ethiopia.

True, no hardcore Taliban-type group controls Somalia. Frankly,in Somalia, no one is in control. Clans, like gangs, control street cornersand swaths of countryside. However, anarchy attracts terror cadres. U.S.diplomats note the rampant anarchy in Somalia means the country can't "beleft to its own devices."

U.S. anti-terror operations in Somalia would leverage thepolitical and military presence of opposition factions (like the RRA).However, the ability to use airbases under RRA control and the closeproximity of the Indian Ocean (the U.S. Navy is just offshore) mean "quickstrikes" from U.S. Army and Marine forces are a real option. The logisticstail for U.S. ground operations in Somalia is much shorter and more flexiblethan that in Afghanistan. A mix of airstrikes and coordinated raids woulddestroy Al Qaeda material assets in Somalia. Bounties (in euros or U.S.dollars) would induce Somali clansmen to turn in Al Qaeda operatives.

The destruction of Al Qaeda supporters and assets in Somalia andeastern Yemen would maintain the Afghan momentum. Kicking off operations inthese areas sooner rather than later would re-emphasize the Bushadministration's key point that this is a war against global terrorism, notsimply a war with Osama bin Laden. Success in Somalia buys time tostrengthen the anti-terror coalition and prepare for the showdown withSaddam.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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