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Pinprick attacks on US forces mount worldwide

Tuesday's shooting of two US Marines in Kuwait stirs doubts about American troops' safety, even in friendly states.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 9, 2002


A shooting attack on US Marines during a live-fire exercise in Kuwait Tuesday is the latest in a string of pinprick strikes against expanding American forces abroad – even in nations that welcome the US presence.

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One US Marine died and another was wounded as about 1,000 US Marines and Navy sailors took part in the annual Kuwait-US war game, Eager Mace. Two unknown assailants – reportedly civilians – pulled up in a pickup truck, got out, and opened fire. US troops returned fire and killed the two.

Since it was liberated from Iraqi occupation by a US-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf War, Kuwait has been the Middle East nation most genuinely sympathetic toward American policy in the Gulf, and the most hospitable, providing military bases, training and support.

Unlike in Saudi Arabia, extreme Islamist sentiment in Kuwait is rarely directed at the US; Al Qaeda operatives have never been tolerated there.

But as the US gears up to expand Washington's "war on terror" to Iraq, a series of fresh attacks against US forces – even in nations where the majority support the US presence – underscores the risk to growing US military deployments.

From Kuwait and Afghanistan to South Korea and the Philippines, US forces have been recently targeted in ways that seem to bear out, even if partially, fresh promises by Al Qaeda and its supporters to continue their war against America.

The strikes come against a backdrop of deepening concern in the Arab world about US plans and motivations for an attack against Iraq, and concern among analysts that US military action is likely to boost support for Al Qaeda.

The Arabic Al-Jazeera television station on Monday released what it described to be an audio tape of Osama bin Laden, vowing that Al Qaeda operatives, to help thwart a US strike against Iraq.

"The Muslim youth promise you [America] what will fill your heart with terror and will target the core of your economy until you stop your injustice and aggression or until one of us dies and God give us strength," the voice on the tape said. It also said that any attack against the Muslim world would be repaid "twofold."

Daniel Benjamin, a former head of counter-terrorism at the National Security Council says that "every American intervention, even those that were humanitarian, as in Somalia, has had the effect of stoking jihadist sentiment."

"Bin Laden's argument is that the US ... is waging a war against Islam, and the appearance of American bombs dropping on a Muslim population will serve to confirm that to most people in the region – even if they despise Saddam," says Mr. Benjamin, who is co-author of the new book "The Age of Sacred Terror."

"An occupation of any kind will provide jihadists with an awful lot of targets," he adds.

Even before an Iraq strike, US forces seem to be coming under increasing fire – even in nations that are strong allies. In Afghanistan, US forces continuing their operations in the east of the country, especially around the former Taliban and Al Qaeda stronghold of Khost, have been hit by frequent gun, rocket and mortar fire.

US soldiers conducting pursuit operations across the border in Pakistan – a key US ally throughout the Afghan campaign – are also reported to have come under rocket fire in recent months.