Alexander's Column

Tip of the spear

Mark Alexander · Oct. 5, 2001

The spear’s tip has been honed to a fine point and is now pointed at the throat of our adversaries on the first offensive military front in the war against the Al Qaeda faction of Jihadistan. The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean, joining other ships gathering in the region around Afghanistan, and over 300 warplanes are ready to strike, not to mention the U.S. Special Forces already on the ground conducting their third week of reconnoitering enemy targets in Afghanistan. (You will recall “The Big Stick” left Norfolk last month to the strains of “New York, New York.”) And now it’s a waiting game, with frayed nerves and false starts.

Intelligence resources have identified and targeted at least 23 terrorist training camps within Afghanistan, and the military planning emphasizes targeting terrorists and the Taliban rulers of part of the country while sparing noncombatants and civilian infrastructure, such as it is. Of note, defections from the Taliban to loosely affiliated groups allied with the Northern Alliance, which could form a new government for Afghanistan, have increased significantly – before the first shot of any overt action has been fired.

President George Bush Tuesday sent Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the region, for a round of visits to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan to solidify support for the impending operations. “It seemed to me that given their geography and their situation, that having a face-to-face meeting with the leadership there would be a useful thing,” Rumsfeld said as he departed the Pentagon.

Sources indicate, in fact, that the United States and Britain at the last minute Tuesday hastily cancelled planned military strikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan, after surprise objections arose from Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Oman. A major concern, of course, is how Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein may exploit military actions in the region. However, as noted above, the delay has fortunately resulted in further deterioration of continuity in the Taliban’s ability to govern.

Richard Butler, former chief UN weapons inspector, warned that Hussein has been stockpiling deadly nerve gas for the last three years, which he might use in retaliatory attacks against the U.S. for winning the Gulf War ten years back. Remarking that Hussein has not hesitated to use chemical weapons against Iraqi civilians, Butler stated, “When they threw our inspectors out three years ago, it was after I had presented him with evidence of large-scale manufacture by them of the vilest chemical substance, VX. And when they saw that we knew about that and wanted to take it away, they shut us down. I’ll leave you to draw the conclusions. …He has shown a distinct preference for those weapons, his weapons of choice, if you like. …I’m not prepared to say that I know [he had a role in the September 11 attacks in the U.S.] because the evidence isn’t in. [But] should it be investigated? You bet.”

Stateside, tensions are running high, as law enforcement intelligence analysts anticipate the other shoe will drop soon. The Bush administration gave notice of a high probability of additional terrorist strikes in the United States, which may include chemical and biological weapons. As noted in The Federalist within days of the 9-11 attack, at least three of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist cells remain at large on American soil with plans to implement attacks using, in our estimation, chemical and/or biological weapons.

Attorney General John Ashcroft confirmed, “I think there is a clear, present danger to Americans…it’s very unlikely that all of those associated with the attacks of Sept. 11 are now detained or have been detected.”

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card declared, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that … al Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare, and that is very, very bad for the world.” Regarding the use of nuclear weapons to retaliate for a biological or chemical attack, Mr. Card said, “We’re going to do everything we can to defend the United States.”

Senior agents and officers with FBI and CIA counterterrorism units spent part of their week testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the scope and probability of future acts of violence against U.S. civilians. “We have to believe there will be another attempt by a terrorist group to hit us again,” concluded Sen. Richard Shelby. “A 100 percent chance,” according to one CIA analyst. “We think that there is a very serious threat of additional problems now,” Attorney General Ashcroft added. “And frankly, as the United States responds, that threat may escalate.”

The FBI roundup of suspected Osama bin Laden collaborators in the U.S. continues at a brisk pace – as do roundups around the world. It has been a week highlighted by some escalation of anomalies. A rare case of pulmonary anthrax has been documented in Florida – “apparently isolated” according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. (According to the epidemiologist on our Editorial Board – very rare and equally suspicious.) In Tennessee, a Croatian national – not yet confirmed that he was Muslim – walked to the front of a Greyhound bus and slit the driver’s throat – causing the bus to crash, killing six passengers and injuring 32. The latter, we estimate, was the first in a series of copycat crimes based on the 9-11 public transportation model.

Memo to the Bush administration, our representatives in Congress and the American people: In war, there are campaigns and counter campaigns. We are at WAR with Jihadistan. Our nation has already been assailed in a rather dramatic surprise attack. There is a very high probability that domestic targets will be attacked again – regardless of the homeland and foreign campaigns to neutralize our adversary. The fact is that our back door has been left wide open for years, while the ranks of those charged with guarding the front door have been repeatedly thinned. We are now paying – and will be paying for some time – a dear and high price for that negligence.