War without end ...
Phase one is almost over. Now the US has its sights set beyond the Taliban - America's blood is up. And they're not stopping at Kabul.
Rupert Cornwell and Michael Byers
Independent (UK) 02 December 2001
Fast approaching is the season of peace and good will to all men. Not that you would notice it in Washington DC. The White House Christmas decorations may be up, but bellicosity, not charity, fills the air. With the Afghan campaign looking all but over, the commentators, the politicians and the war-gamers have but one question: where next? For all the proclaimed commitment to nation-building in Afghanistan, Washington is now turning its attention to phase two of its struggle against terrorism, and it's feeling pretty good about the prospect.
Contrary to the gloomy prognostications of late October, overwhelming US air power, far more precise than in the Gulf war, has unlocked the door to victory. And if it worked in Afghanistan, whose guerrilla war traditions were supposed to make air power particularly unsuitable for such a task, then why not in Iraq, Yemen or anywhere else suspected of harbouring or helping al-Qa'ida operatives? The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Pentagon are focusing on the long-term mission, to stamp out al-Qa'ida in the 60-odd countries where it is reputed to have a presence. So which of them are now in America's crosshairs? In fact, these 60 fall into distinct categories. The first (numerically the largest) consists not of Arab but Western, non-Muslim nations, among them the US itself, where terrorist cells have long since dug in. In these, Washington can rely on friends to help it do its dirty work.
Elsewhere, in Arab and other countries with governments that officially support the coalition, but which are breeding-grounds for radical, violent Islam, there are more complex legal and diplomatic issues to be tackled. The United Nations Charter prohibits the use of force, but there are three exceptions to it. First, a country facing internal security threats can ask for military assistance. Considerable pressure is being applied to encourage the authorities in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere to invite US intervention directed at terrorist groups. Somalia has already issued an invitation, but others might not be so compliant.
Second, the UN Security Council can authorise the use of force. It has been strongly supportive of the US after 11 September, three times condemning the terrorist attacks and requiring all countries to take concrete measures such as the freezing of terrorist assets.
America might argue that it has already received authorisation. For the past decade it has justified its no-fly zones in Iraq on the basis of the Security Council resolution that authorised the 1991 Gulf war. The same resolution might now be invoked to justify an intervention to remove Saddam Hussein, for Baghdad is increasingly conflated with Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida. No matter that not a scrap of evidence has surfaced that Saddam had anything to do with the World Trade Centre atrocity; a conservative bloc headed by Mr Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, wants to complete the job they say was wrongly left unfinished in 1991.
Last week George Bush suggested that the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam would be enough to justify US military action. Let the UN inspectors back in, the President warned, or else. Even the habitually cautious Colin Powell chimed in, calling Mr Bush's words a "sober and chilling" warning that Saddam Hussein would ignore at his peril.
As for targets elsewhere, one of the resolutions adopted after 11 September requires all UN members to "take all necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts". The US could argue that any military action directed at terrorists constitutes a "necessary step". But the US does not want to involve the UN. Invoking a Security Council resolution creates a potentially awkward precedent. What would happen in future if the Security Council was not willing to support military action?
The US is likely to focus on the third exception to the prohibition of force. The UN Charter explicitly preserves the "inherent right of individual or collective self-defence". As an inherent right, self-defence is governed by customary international law: an informal body of rules that evolves in response to the actions - and reactions - of states.
Until 11 September, the right to self-defence was limited to armed attacks by other states. It did not extend to terrorist acts, even when those acts were directly supported by a state. In 1996, a terrorist bomb in a Berlin nightclub killed a number of American soldiers. The US responded by bombing Tripoli, claiming self-defence. But this claim - and claims of self-defence in similar situations - have been widely rejected by other countries, and have thus failed to become part of customary international law.
After 11 September, the US sought and secured widespread support for a change in the law. Its effort was helped by universal outrage at the atrocities, and evidence linking the Taliban to them. The vast majority of countries now accept that self-defence extends to state sponsors of terrorism, at least where the terrorists have already launched an attack.
The US is now claiming a right to pre-emptive action against terrorist threats. Iraqi efforts to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are of particular concern.
There is little evidence for a right of pre-emptive action in present-day international law. In the past, states simply have not claimed a right of anticipatory self-defence. But this aspect of the law might also change. If most countries express support for the US claim, the new right to respond to state sponsors of terrorism might soon extend into a right of pre-emptive action against them.
Once a retreat for retired mujahedin, Yemen is one of America's closest friends in Arabia. However, this magnificently beautiful nation is still struggling to shake off its image as a terrorist haven due to last year's al Qa'ida attack on a US warship.
Tolerating alcohol and other political parties, President Ali Abdallah Salih is considered one of the most West-leaning leaders in Arabia. Last week, he met President Bush and was offered a $400m aid package in exchange for co-operation on terrorism.
That friendship won him a refuelling contract for American warships in 1998, but also invited the wrath of minority Islamic extremists. In October 2000, two al Qa'ida operatives sidled up to the USS Cole and detonated a raft packed with explosives. They killed 17 US soldiers and themselves.
The fundamentalists are left over from the Afghanistan war of the 1980s. After beating the Russians, some mujahedin came to Yemen, which had no visa requirements. The government found a use for them in 1994, in the quelling of communist secessionists based in the southern port of Aden.
But as with the Cold War allies, the holy fighters soon become an embarrassment to the government and were deported. However, the Yemeni veterans stayed on.
In the wake of 11 September, travellers from Afghanistan and Pakistan were interrogated; the government even shut down text-messaging systems when a pixellated image of bin Laden started to do the rounds.
But despite the good intentions, President Salih hasn't solved some problems. The largest of these is the largely unpatrolled 2,000-mile land and sea border. Some intelligence reports say the mujahedin still run training camps in the mountainous north.
There is not enough justification for strikes against Yemen. The government tolerates terrorists, but as one US official put it: "You don't bomb someone for being inept."
Somalia is one of the ugliest piles on the Cold War scrapheap. In the 10 years since the fall of dictator Siad Barre - alternately a favourite of the Soviets and the Americans - a once proud nation has been fractured and its people battered by war. In the capital, Mogadishu, guns are everywhere and clan-based warlords hold sway over a patchwork of zones.
A fragile transitional government, voted in by clan elders last year, is struggling to control even part of the city. Two provinces, Puntland and Somaliland, have declared autonomous states. Everywhere, Islamic groups have rushed to meet ordinary people's yearning for order. One militia, known as Al-Itihaad, is thought to be linked to al-Qa'ida.
President Abdiqassim Salad Hassan admitted he "could not be sure" if there were al-Qa'ida bases, but even if there were "one or two", the country was "able to deal with them". The perfect bolt hole for bin Laden? Some certainly think so.
American warships are positioned off the Somalia coast, just in case the elusive super-terrorist tries to slip in. Last month, President Bush claimed that Al-Barakaat - Somalia's main financial company - was part of Bin Laden's money network, effectively shutting it down.
The government lacks control of the whole country, but terrorist activity is limited, making it unlikely that a strike would be taken against it. Even if bin Laden was to hide with one militia, a rival clan might rat him out - or hunt him down for the reward.
Sudan's Islamic government has long been high on the US list of terrorist-sponsoring states, largely because Osama bin Laden lived in Khartoum for five years in the early 1990s. Ostensibly, he was a wealthy Muslim brother and a construction kingpin. His companies paved hundreds of miles of road and farmed sorghum, sesame seeds and gum arabic.
But others claim it was all a front. They say that bin Laden used Khartoum as the hub of a global terrorist network. US officials agree. Nevertheless, President Omar al Bashir expelled his controversial guest in 1996.
Sudan now claims that all ties with bin Laden have been broken. Terrorist training camps are thought to have been shut down, and even before 11 September, President Bashir was sharing his intelligence files with the CIA. He was among the first leaders to distance himself from the attacks. A few weeks later, UN sanctions were lifted.
US strikes could target supporters of Hassan al Turabi, the regime's Islamic godfather, currently in jail. The last time the US attacked Khartoum, in 1998, after the bombing of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, it is thought to have hit a pharmaceuticals factory instead of a chemicals plant.
The government tolerates the presence of terrorist groups but it is unclear whether the US or its allies could find viable targets in Sudan.
Country analysis by Declan Walsh
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