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US weighs options beyond Afghanistan

Washington is keeping open the possibility of military action against Somalia or Iraq.

By Ann Scott TysonSpecial correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 7, 2001


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As President Bush weighs further military action in the global war on terror, one blunt statement seems to sum up his approach: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Since Mr. Bush set out that stark choice, Washington has moved aggressively to sort out friend and foe. So far, officials say, three camps have emerged: nations fully committed to tracking down and eliminating terrorist cells, recent "converts" still suspect for their past tolerance for terrorists, and stubborn state supporters of terrorism.

From this spectrum, one can begin to discern the likely roles for the US military beyond Afghanistan, where the first phase of the war is approaching a denouement.

Already, the United States is extending hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military aid - including weapons, training, and military advisers - to countries that have emerged as partners in the counterterrorism fight. Recipients include the Philippines, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Columbia and Yemen are also candidates, defense officials say.

"We can add some effort and have a big impact," says a senior defense official, referring to military counterterrorism aid. "We're trying to beef those [programs] up." In a related effort, the Pentagon is also seeking to expand or reestablish military-to-military ties with countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia, viewed as crucial allies in combating terrorism.

Countries still in question

Next, the Bush administration is gauging the need for US forces to intervene against terrorists in countries such as Sudan and Yemen, whose willingness or ability to root out the networks is still in question.

Since Sept. 11, four of the seven states listed by the State Department as terrorism sponsors - Sudan, Syria, Libya, and Iran - have taken steps to help the US-led counterterror dragnet, such as making arrests, sharing intelligence, and offering military support. Yemen, too, is "trying harder to be responsive," says a senior Pentagon official. "These are countries that bear watching," says another defense official. "They have not completely converted, but we are seeing the right types of things."

Finally, Washington is pointedly keeping open the option of military action against hostile regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and/or weapons of mass destruction (WMD), such as Somalia and Iraq, defense officials say. North Korea is also under close scrutiny as a potential exporter of WMD to terrorists, they add.

In the short term, one possibility is for US forces to launch quick, targeted strikes against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that the Pentagon says are hiding in Somalia. Some defense officials consider Somalia much like Afghanistan - a weak, lawless nation infested with terrorists.

In the longer run, the Pentagon has not ruled out a full-scale US campaign to unseat the government of Iraq. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's backing of terrorism - coupled with his WMD and hatred for America - makes Iraq a prime candidate for US military action, suggest defense officials and prominent Pentagon advisers.

"We are looking at Iraq from multiple perspectives - not only its terrorist habit ... but the weapons of mass destruction, which have gotten worse since UNSCOM [UN weapons inspectors] was driven out three years ago," says a senior Pentagon official. "Iraq is just a dangerous state, purely and simply. And sooner or later ... it's something we have to be concerned about."

Still, officials stress that Bush has made no decisions on Iraq, and leading State Department officials advocate a cautious, go-slow approach focused on sanctions. At the same time, however, the rhetoric both in and outside the Pentagon suggests it is more a question of how and when - than whether - the US should move to overthrow the Baghdad regime.

Senior officials now at the Pentagon, State Department, and White House, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and assistant secretary Peter Rodman, have in the past argued vigorously for the regime's removal. They signed a 1998 letter urging President Clinton to make that a goal of US policy.

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