On the front with Jihadistan, our warriors in Afghanistan uncovered two of the largest caches of Jihadi-stashed weapons found to date there. The stockpiles included over 1.8 million rounds of ammunition, 600 rocket-propelled grenades, 700 mortar shells, 600 howitzer shells and five Russian-made T-54 tanks. The weapons will be destroyed or turned over to the new-forming Afghan army. Our forces continue to root out and neutralize pockets of Taliban resistance and remnants of al-Qa'ida cells along the border with Pakistan. Early reports indicate that a potentially lengthy “Operation Condor” began today, after Australian troops came under hostile fire in Afghanistan’s Paktia province – the same area where British forces concluded a 2-week campaign (“Operation Snipe”) with no enemy contact. U.S. air strikes are underway, and some 1,000 British troops with American air support have been deployed in this latest offensive.
To the West, Palestinian terror chief Yasser Arafat, now released from his Ramallah compound, spent much of the week touring the destruction in the West Bank – destruction for which he is primarily responsible. On Thursday, the Palestinian Legislative Council called for reforms rejecting terrorism and corruption, with recommendations for elections for president and legislative representatives within a year, most likely March 2003.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Likud party voted overwhelmingly against the possible future formation of a Palestinian state, against the admonitions of the party’s de facto head, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Suspicions fell on former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon’s chief rival in Likud, for engineering the vote. But the vote does provide the equivalent of “good cop-bad cop” diplomacy, giving Sharon more negotiating room with Arafat in the perpetual “peace process.”
And Turkish intelligence sources say that Iran successfully tested a Shihab-3 missile, which has a range capable of hitting Israel and can carry a one-ton warhead. Iran (still on the “Axis of Evil” list, you’ll recall) has plans for 150 of these missiles, modeled on the North Korean No Dong mid-range rocket, but with Russian upgrades.
On the post-Cold War front, President Bush joined Russian President Vladimir Putin in agreeing to a nuclear arms reduction pact that will cut the two nations’ arsenals by two-thirds, from 6,000-7,000 to 1,700-2,200 each. This marks an important step forward in normalized relations in the post-Cold War world. While this agreement was thought impossible by those decrying the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Left continues with its opposition to the president’s missile defense program, even as this week’s landmark in nuclear de-escalation removes the pretense for their dissent. The Senate Armed Service Committee has slashed missile-defense spending – for the second year in a row – from $8.3 billion to $6.8 billion. In the present international climate, asymmetrical belligerents and the animosity of various rogue states make missile-defense more important than it ever was during the Cold War, and renders the objections of its defamers as obsolete as the ABM Treaty itself.
In another groundbreaking event with the Russian state, Tuesday witnessed Russia’s acceptance as a de facto ally of NATO, and the advent of the new NATO-Russia Joint Council. This marks another step forward in broader cooperation with Moscow, specifically in regard to international terrorism concerns, peacekeeping and regional stability responsibilities, theater missile-defense, and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons control. With this milestone Secretary Powell reaffirmed NATO’s post-Cold War relevance as a mechanism for addressing global terrorism: “the challenges NATO may be facing in the future won’t always be located in Central Europe.” After the September 11 attacks, NATO invoked its common defense clause – an attack on one is an attack on all – for the first time in its 53-year history. Though Moscow welcomes its new influence with NATO, continues to oppose the expansion of NATO’s influence into the former Soviet block, as it is now considering applications for membership from 10 central and eastern European countries.