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.

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.

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.

US troops deployed in the Philippines last spring to help the Manila government overcome Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, and have overwhelming public support. But last week, a bombing conducted by a man on a motorcycle killed one American soldier and wounded 23 people outside an open-air restaurant and karaoke bar near a military camp occupied by US and Philippine troops in the city of Zamboanga, some 500 miles south of Manila.

In Korea, where 37,000 US troops are deployed, an angry mob last month briefly abducted an American soldier and forced him to make apologies in a university stadium, over an incident last June in which two Korean girls were accidentally run over by a US armored vehicle.

Such incidents are growing as US forces expand operations to include deployments in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and even to Djibouti and Yemen.

Some former Pentagon officials and analysts say that the US risks compromising its fight against Al Qaeda by turning its focus on Iraq - an argument President George Bush rejected in a speech on Monday night.

He accused Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of being a "murderous tyrant" who posed a "unique" threat to global security. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri – echoing voices easily found across Arabia - accused Mr. Bush of using "misleading information ... to justify an illogical and illegitimate attack on Iraq."

The problem may deepen in Iraq, even if Mr. Hussein is ousted or overthrown by US troops, says an Iraqi woman speaking in Jordan, who would only give her name as Umm Thaer, or "mother of Thaer."

"Every Iraqi is going to fight against the Americans, because no Iraqi will accept foreigners," she says. "Even my son, who is 14, could hold a rifle and fight the Americans."

"The Iraqi people will be angry and stand against the Americans, and fight to the last man," says a Palestinian shoemaker in Jordan called Bilal. "they will have suicide bombs. It will be the same as in Palestine."

Retired Admiral Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director, says that even in Kuwait, "when you are in an area where so many people are opposed to the United States – as anywhere in the Middle East today – you have to be doubly careful. I suspect ... we have to change our method of operation."

"I can't recall doing an exercise where there was concern that there would be an enemy attack. This is a new world we are in, I'm afraid." says Admiral Turner.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. David Lapan said that no Kuwaiti soldiers were involved in the training exercise at the time of Tuesday's shooting. "The information we have not is that they were civilians. They appear not to be Kuwaiti military."

A security source in Kuwait told Agence France-Presse that 26 people were taken into custody shortly after the incident.

The shooting occurred on Failaka Island off Kuwait's coast, Kuwaiti Ministry of Defense spokesman Brig. Ahmed al-Rahmani said. The normally uninhabited island is about 10 miles east of Kuwait City and about 30 miles south of the southernmost tip of Iraq. American and Kuwaiti forces have been training together since the end of the US-led Gulf War. A Kuwaiti-US. defense pact signed after the war calls for yearlong exercises.

• Staff writer David T. Cook in Washington contributed and material from the wire services was used in this report.

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