President George W. Bush's War on Terror continued apace, overseas and at home. In Afghanistan, our anti-terror fighters pounded ever-smaller targets, including tanks and convoys of Afghan and Pakistani opposition forces scattered around the badlands. U.S. Special Forces continue to soften resistance and thoroughly "demoralize" the enemy -- often with a spotter from a distance of 1000 yards.... Northern Alliance forces continued their advance southward as
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had a minor dustup with Pentagon correspondents Thursday, after a headline writer for "USA Today" suggested he had stated that terror chief Osama bin Laden might never be caught. As Rumsfeld clarified, he expects success in bringing bin Laden to justice, or bringing justice to him (the last being our preference, of course).
In the continuation of war by other means, the anti-terror efforts took a hard turn into diplomacy. A shura in Pakistan brought together hundreds of pre-Taliban leaders from Afghanistan, to meet and discuss a post-Taliban future for their broken and beleaguered country. Preliminary planning is for the nation to be led by a leadership council chaired by the king, which would appoint skilled "technocrats" as a functional bureaucracy, and would also write a new constitution consistent with Islamic traditions. (Such measures should placate our Muslim anti-terror allies concerned about the West's self-defense against Islamic terrorists, although some pro-bin Laden statements at the meeting surprised diplomats monitoring the gathering.)
In other "jaw, jaw" news, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the House International Relations Committee Wednesday to brief congressmen on the anti-terror campaign's progress. Powell was toasted then roasted by several committee members, praised for his "cosmic" reassurance in trying days, then pilloried in particular on the questions of what precisely defines terrorism and how the State Department can criticize Israel for actions against Palestinian terror groups no different from U.S. acts now underway against Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan. Of the second, Powell pronounced that a "very difficult question." On the first point, Powell noted that early lists of "terrorist" groups targeted for financial tracking focused on bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and that updated future lists would include such other acknowledged terror-sponsoring groups as Hamas and Hezbollah. Clearly a case in which the devil is in the definitions!
Why would two State Department lists of international terror organizations not be identical? (Hint: Think Clintonistas still in State Department woodwork.)
There were new cases of "postal" anthrax this week, bringing the pulmonary anthrax death toll to 3, anthrax symptomatic cases to 20, 111 confirmed exposures and more than 10,000 prophylactic treatments. On the positive side, Ernesto Blanco was released from a Florida hospital after successful treatment for pulmonary anthrax. Mr. Blanco was a co-worker of photo editor Bob Stevens, the first victim murdered in the anthrax attacks.
"We cannot be 100 percent sure that mail is safe," the postal service's chief operating officer, Patrick Donahoe, admitted. And the USPS plans, as early as possible, to begin treating some Washington and New York mail at nearby private firms that are equipped with anthrax-killing electron technology. The program is slated for later expansion to postal facilities nationwide. In the meantime, the rest of us will have to keep ironing it out!
Given the harassment level the anthrax mailings have achieved for the number of fatalities and casualties, they surely qualify as both "weapons of mass disruption" and "weapons of mass distraction." That last aspect is of especial concern, as we still expect further attacks of a more serious and destructive nature.
And who rounds up the list of the most likely and "usual" suspects behind the postal anthrax? Former CIA Director James Woolsey noted the most likely explanation is a "joint venture" between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, as a coordinated follow-on from the 9-11 attacks. (Apparently he read his Federalist three weeks ago!) Bin Laden would presumably provide money, mobility, and field operations, which would further yield Iraq with the cover of misdirection, distance and plausible deniability; while Iraq provides such capabilities as state-supplied false identities and research and production of terror weapons (including bioweapons like anthrax).
Moreover, we learned this week from Egyptian authorities -- after they "massaged" some information out of Egyptian Islamic Jihad member Ahmad Ibrahim al-Najjar -- that bin Laden has purchased anthrax for a few thousand from the Czech Republic. And Saudi Arabia is inclined toward believing an Iraq connection exists -- especially since 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. The United Nations also suspects Saddam Hussein and his "Dr. Germ" (Dr. Rihab Taha, the English-educated 45-year-old Iraqi female doctor heading Iraq's biological and chemical weapons programs) are implicated.
And another hard piece of evidence: Iraq Thursday denied involvement in either the 9-11 or the anthrax attacks. Must be they are behind both then!
Our analysis still points to a combination of Islamic extremists on the eastern seaboard heeding Osama bin Laden's call for jihad, and the work of a lone anarchist we dubbed the "Unaplaguer." This could account for the variance in the "quality" of the anthrax used in the attacks.
We remain convinced that if the Islamic cell involved in the mailings is directly linked to the Al Qaeda faction of Jihadistan, then their next move will be the "mass mailing" of anthrax-tainted letters and parcels -- perhaps 2-3 thousand letters in a single day -- in an effort to totally disrupt continuity of government and commerce at every level. After all, if only three letters to Capitol Hill offices can clear the place out....
FBI Director Robert Mueller agrees: "I must tell you that the threat level remains very high. More attempts and possible attacks are a distinct possibility." However, it should be no problem locating the perpetrators as there are only about 8 million illegal immigrants residing among us, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). (Seems we recall something about Clintonistas hustling in immigrants in hopes that they would register and vote for Gore....)