Alexander's Column

Where to next?

Mark Alexander · Dec. 14, 2001

Our war on terror advanced smartly in Afghanistan, with our warriors and Afghan allies narrowing the chokehold around the single remaining battlefront at the caves and tunnels around Tora Bora and the nearby Malawa Valley in northeastern Afghanistan – where al Qaeda diehards, possibly defending murderer-in-chief Osama bin Laden, were holed up. Intelligence estimates are that bin Laden has not escaped and remains in hiding south of Tora Bora. In Kabul, Marines secured the U.S. Embassy, and Afghanistan’s interim leader Hamid Karzai, slated to take power December 22, entered the presidential palace, pledging that if the United States will never again “walk away from Afghanistan,” his liberated country will become our trusted ally and friend.

Though The Federalist laid account for the 9-11 attacks at the feet of bin Laden on the morning of 9-12 (#01-37 Chronicle), well in advance of the talkingheads, a few Leftmedia holdouts still suggest that he must be “tried and convicted” as a criminal before being found guilty. After President George Bush ordered the release of a homemade videotape on Thursday, showing bin Laden revealing his knowledge of such operational details as Mohammed Atta’s role as linchpin linking groups unaware of each other, and his pre-operation analysis of the projected death toll from the World Trade Center towers’ damage, few Leftmedia “legal analysts” still question his guilt.

Most chilling in the tape is the delight bin Laden and his cohorts express at the massacre of innocents. Bin Laden quotes a verse from the Hadith: “I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Muhammad.” He then says: “We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all. Due to my experience in this [engineering] field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for.”

An interesting footnote: Chemistry professor Art Robinson addressed that last point in September’s “Access to Energy” newsletter, claiming that if not for New York City’s ban on asbestos in buildings, the towers’ collapse would have been delayed – possibly even averted.

Syed Tayyad Agha, spokesman for Mullah Omar, suggested wishfully this week in an interview: “No, you should forget the 11 September attacks….” (Apparently he has not seen bin Laden’s hit video.) On the fall of Kandahar, Abdul Salam Zaeef, Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said: “I think we should go home.” Indeed, the welcoming party is waiting!

But will bin Laden go out with a bang or a whimper? His estranged wife, Sabiha, claimed in a Russian television interview that rather than surrender or be captured, he would order his elder sons to shoot him, in effect a televised suicide to trigger attacks on international landmarks: “That will be the signal for a new wave of terror. The targets this time would be the Capitol building in Washington, Big Ben in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.”

National security analysts are already drawing lessons from the extraordinary successes of our Afghanistan operations, noting first the effectiveness of allowing U.S. commandos inside Afghanistan unprecedented autonomy to plan and execute attacks when needed, resulting in “hundreds” of enemy soldier deaths. One description called the special-operations forces’ rules of engagement an “unrestricted hunting license” for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. Recent years’ increasing emphasis on SOF training will undoubtedly remain central in the impending plans for “transformation” of the U.S. military to meet emerging and “asymmetric” threats. Another lesson drawn from Afghanistan has been the usefulness of “real-time” coordination with information from unmanned aerial vehicles.

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted: “This war is far from over. I have been reading an awful lot of things and seeing on television a great rush to declare it a success and over. And I regret to say that it is not yet. We have yet to achieve our very clear objectives. We know it will take time. It does not end with the fall of Kabul or Kunduz or even Kandahar, or even with the capture of some of the individual Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. … They can escape across borders and regroup and then plot to strike again, as they have promised to do.”

The question of “where to next?” has revealed a target-rich environment. “This is a global war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,” Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, observed. “So Afghanistan is only one small piece. So of course we’re thinking very broadly. I would say since World War II we haven’t thought this broadly about a campaign. I think this is going to be a long, hard-fought conflict.” The Bush administration plans include deploying special operations forces in multiple countries simultaneously. One unnamed senior administration official commented, “We need [these forces] in other parts of the world. Everybody here has their own list: Iraq, Somalia, the Philippines, South America. Take your pick.”

And, lest any patriot citizen relax his watch, there are still numerous cells of Islamic extremists within our borders. We are still on highest alert and for just reason! John Walker Lindh, the captured American fighting as an al Qaeda warrior in Afghanistan, has now told intelligence interrogators that “Phase II” of bin Laden’s jihad in America will occur at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Sunday, and will use biological weapons. Lindh further claims that a third phase of Jihadistan’s war on the U.S. will destroy the “entire country.” Of course, Lindh is a sociopathic traitor who needs to be strung up at dawn. Though his warnings are likely of little credibility, the threat from terrorist cells in our suburbs is, and remains, very real.