Where terror war goes from here

US seems unlikely to hopscotch from place to place, but will lay groundwork for more coordinated campaigns.

Six months after the September attacks, the US-led war against terrorism is turning toward pursuit of a battered yet elusive foe.

The fierce fighting of Operation Anaconda, now winding down, demonstrates that the US will be satisfied with nothing less than total victory over the Al Qaeda, say administration officials. That means denying the terrorist network any haven - whether it be in the caves of eastern Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, or anywhere else.

Thus talking about "phases" of the war, with its implication of an effort in one place ending and focus on another beginning, may be somewhat misleading.

Iraq, or some other nation with little in the way of ties to Al Qaeda, could eventually become a main target. But for now it seems the military campaign will be less a jump from place to place and more a smooth transition involving diverse efforts.

"They are using this terminology 'phase,' but it seems to me more like a wave," says Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University international-relations professor. "It's more the big effort made in Afghanistan now ripples outward with a proliferating number of commitments and obligations."

President Bush, in his speech yesterday on the White House lawn marking the six-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, defined the US effort as a "sustained campaign to deny sanctuary" to terrorists of global reach.

Toward that end, there are likely to be more battles in Afghanistan, said Mr. Bush. He also cited the provision of Special Force trainers to the Philippines, where they are helping in the pursuit of the small but committed Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, which has Al Qaeda ties.

The US has promised to provide similar help to the Republic of Georgia, to help down alleged Islamic militants hiding in a mountain gorge near the border with Chechnya.

American diplomats are also working with Yemen, to help avert the possibility of it becoming another Afghanistan, said Bush. Many Al Qaeda fighters came from the area of the Yemeni-Saudi border, and US military planners have long worried that the terrorist group might try to reconstitute its leadership in that remote area.

Overall, the US effort now is not directed against nations, but against a network, said Bush.

"Every terrorist must be made to live as an international fugitive," he told a wind-whipped audience on a crisp, clear day.

The precision of Bush's speech might carry a dual message, say some analysts.

The first is about the nature of the administration's resolve to carry on the fight. By insisting on total US victory over Al Qaeda in Afghanistan - and by committing substantial numbers of US ground forces toward that aim in Operation Anaconda - the White House may be warning future foes such as Iraq that this time the US means to finish what it starts.

This is not the Gulf War, when American forces stopped short of toppling Saddam Hussein, nor is it Somalia, where one brutal firefight led to the reduction of the US peacekeeping effort.

The second message may be for America's acquaintances and allies: Calm down. We're not invading Iraq tomorrow.

Yesterday, Bush made no reiteration of his "axis of evil" remark. Indeed, he did not mention Iran, Iraq, or North Korea by name at all. Many allies were unsettled by Bush's original use of the "axis" phrase, and worried that the Bush administration was going to plunge into a premature attempt to unseat Saddam.

That said, the US is clearly laying the foundation for a possible, eventual, move against Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney's current 12-country trip to the Middle East region will focus on that topic, for instance.

Appearing in London after the end of his flight's first leg, Mr. Cheney said yesterday that he would be discussing the Iraq problem with America's "friends and allies" in the region. The point was reaching a consensus, he said, not handing out orders.

However, Cheney pointedly mentioned the need to reinstate independent inspections to determine whether Iraqi leader Hussein is continuing efforts to develop nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

Cheney was categoric that only an inspections team with no limitations would satisfy both US demands and what is required under UN resolutions.

"He was to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction," said Cheney. "There's a lot of evidence he's not complied."

Many experts have noted that a renewed attempt to reinstitute UN inspections is a virtual precondition to any US move against Iraq. The assumption behind this reasoning is that Saddam will surely refuse, and that the US will then be able to say that military action is the only answer.

Indeed, over the weekend Saddam said that inspectors would never be allowed in Iraq again.

But some feel that if he sees a confrontation coming, the wily Iraqi leader might suddenly change his tune, and count on his ability to confuse inspectors.

"Saddam Hussein is a very clever man. If he sees the US making headway ... I think he'll switch strategy and say, 'Come on in, boys, I've got nothing to hide,'" says Stanley Bedlington, a former CIA counterterrorism expert.

• Ann Scott Tyson contributed.

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