The Die Is Cast – But It Will Be a Long Haul
The United States if going to war to avenge itself for the catastrophic hijack-suicide attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The first stage of the conflict, according to initial, conservative estimates, could last two to three years. Its success will determine the scope and timeframe of the second phase.
debkafile‘s military experts can disclose that the U.S. 82nd and 101st airborne divisions, or nearly half of the airborne combat forces at the immediate disposal of U.S. President George W. Bush, are currently being airlifted to bases in Pakistan.
The bulk of these forces will be moved to the northern Punjab region of Pakistan and take up position near the city of Dera Ismail and in the valleys at the foot of the Suleiman mountain range, across from their main target – the Afghan city of Kandahar.
The United States also intends to lay siege to, or capture, the Afghan cities of Medan, Galdek and Maroof as well as the Arghastan Valley, where, according to intelligence provided by Russia, India and Israel, Osama bin Laden’s forces have been concentrated in recent months.
The U.S. operations will include air bombardments and missile strikes against Afghanistan’s principal cities: Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
Afghanistan is not the only target. Washington is planning a three-stage offensive against Iraq with the participation of U.S., British and Turkish forces.
debkafile‘s military sources reported back on Friday, September 9, that the Turkish army is on a state of war alert.
Now, our sources add that the Turkish army is poised along its border with Kurdish northern Iraq. It intends to invade the Shouman region and capture the cities of Biyar and Tiwal in the Urman district. The two cities are controlled by Jund al-Islam, a radical Muslim group funded by bin Laden.
The United States now understands that the 200 Taleban fighters who arrived there in mid-July, puzzling many observers, were members of Bin Laden’s general staff, pulled out of Afghanistan two months earlier as part of his preparations for Tuesday’s terror attacks in New York and Washington. Now they will be quarries of a US-Turkish hunt in one prong of the thrust into Iraq.
A simultaneous attack second attack will be spearheaded in the Basra area by some 30,000 British soldiers, currently being airlifted into bases in Oman.
debkafile‘s military sources report that two-thirds of that force was present in Oman Saturday. U.S. and British planes already based in Kuwait, and in Saudi Arabia will provide air cover for the British forces operating Basra – if the Saudi government agrees to its air bases being used in the U.S. operation.
Prong three of the Iraqi wing of the multiple offensive will target the central region, including Baghdad. Airlifted infantry and armor, as well as missiles and tanks, will be used in an effort to destroy the Iraqi infrastructure and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. No final decision has been made on a timetable for the three assault waves into Iraq.
These operations, lasting between two and three weeks, are only the first steps in the coming conflict, which Bush has described as “the first war of the 21st century”.
Bin Laden had not been blind to the likelihood of U.S. retaliation. According to U.S. intelligence estimates, he and his cohorts have been preparing for months for the assaults and have readied their response.
Intelligence specialists believe Bin Laden and his associates, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad – the terror master’s main operational arm – will carry out a series of attacks on U.S. army bases, especially air and naval facilities, in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
For the first time, the Americans have acknowledged the presence of an enemy within.
Members of bin Laden’s group have been trained by the U.S. army and some still serve in various U.S. military units, raising the prospect that attacks could be launched from within the bases themselves. (See also separate item on this page.).
Bin Laden’s men will make a supreme effort to attack aircraft carriers, along with such strategic targets in the United States, such as CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia or FBI headquarters in Washington. Before the Tuesday’s calamities, this scenario would have sounded fantastic. Other targets may include atomic energy stations, where the highest state of alert is already in effect. U.S. military units rushed to the stations have set up defensive perimeters around them. Oil fields and terminals – including, for the first time, fields in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — are other potential targets.
Bush’s ability to wage a drawn-out war will largely depend on the toll Bin Laden’s reprisals take in terms of lives and U.S. public support for the president’s military campaign.
The main question will be – not who will win, but the price the victor will pay for his victory – and the loser’s winnings, if any, on his way to defeat. That defeat may not even be final or lasting.
It’s also important to consider two potential features of the first stage of this war.
1. It is only a start. Even if the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are successful – and there is no guarantee of this – Bin Laden and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad will still have large pockets at their command in Yemen, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and several former Soviet Moslem republics. The largest contingent of Bin Laden-funded Islamic extremist fighters are deployed in the Faragna Valley which lies athwart regions of Krygyzstan, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Last year, Bin Laden’s forces opened up a corridor from Faranga to the Sinkiang province of northern China, linking up the Moslem fighters in that strategic valley and militant Chinese Moslem groups of the Chinese Uighur tribes. This tribes are undergoing combat training in special training camps that Bin Laden established in Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.
There is no knowing now how US strategists mean to deal with these the forces Bin Laden maintains in these far-flung regions. They cannot be left out of the American equation because as long as they exist, Bin Laden retains an operational capability. Will they be left to the Russians and Chinese? Perhaps the Moslem governments of Central Asia will invite the U.S. forces or NATO to do the job?
2. This war opens up the potential for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons us.
U.S. leaders have emphasized since Friday night that the United States will employ its “entire arsenal” in the coming campaign. Even British prime minister Tony Blair, speaking in parliament on Friday, September 14, noted the danger the West faces from terror attacks could include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Israel has voiced strong support for the formation of an anti-terror coalition. But at this stage, the Bush administration prefers to bring Syria in – which means excluding Israeli from – its anti-Bin Laden alliance, in the hope of providing maneuvering room for Saudi Arabia to collaborate. Getting Damascus on board would also sever the Syrian-Iraqi link that has recently grown stronger, as well as snapping its connection with the militant Lebanese Hizballah. Those Shiite extremists would have no option but to break away from a Syrian government that goes to war against Bin Laden.
The US war scenario carries advantages for Israel, but is an ill wind for the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the relentless campaign of violence he launched a year ago..
Some Israeli media reported, inaccurately, that Washington wants the Palestinians in the coalition fighting Bin Laden.
According to debkafile‘s Washington sources, that view is confined mainly to secretary of state Colin Powell, who believes Palestinian participation might pave the way for other Arab countries to join. It might even help encourage certain European nations made cagey by their large Moslem populations and economic and strategic links to oil states in North Africa and the Middle East, to take up arms against the Saudi terrorist leader.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who strongly opposes a Palestinian role in the US-led bloc of nations against Bin Laden, made his views clear to President Bush when they talked over the telephone on Friday.
The next day, Abu Ala, Palestinian parliament Speaker, termed the suicide terror attacks in New York and Washington saddening. But, he said, the world must understand that the real terrorism was that committed by Israel against the Palestinians. Addressing a Palestinian cabinet meeting, Abu Ala said Sharon was well aware that a meeting between foreign minister Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat would be tantamount to Israeli recognition of the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle.
That was the point Sharon made to Bush over the phone and the reason why he was prepared for a major row with Peres to prevent the meeting taking place.
It is his understanding too that Israel will not be called upon for an active role in the first stage of the American confrontation with Iraq and the Bin Laden terrorist movement. But he expects to be called upon in the next stage.
In an extraordinary encounter in Washington Friday, September 14, Arab ambassadors bombarded Secretary Powell and other administration officials with questions about the nature, form and objectives of the planned US military retaliation. US officials rapped out that they did not want questions only a single answer from all the Arab governments: Were they for or against America.