by Austin Bay
The forward deployment of U.S. Third Army headquarters to Kuwait
marks the beginning of "Military Phase Two" in America's Millennial War.
Third Army, also referred to as ARCENT, is the U.S. Army
ground-force component of Central Command.
The real estate agent's adage, "Location is everything," must
come to mind. With a major U.S. headquarters in Kuwait, the obvious first,
second and third thought is "on to Iraq."
But don't bet on it. Kuwait offers a politically secure,
pro-American command site in a volatile region -- at the moment that's the
emirate's primary appeal.
Afghanistan isn't over. For that and several other reasons,
Somalia and eastern Yemen, two anarchic terror-havens, make more sense as
near-term military and diplomatic targets.
Thus the drop in "on to Baghdad" decibels from Bush
Certainly, Saddam Hussein's execrable regime is on America's hit
list. It has to be, and credit Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
with having the spine to insist on it. Though Saddam's direct connections to
Al Qaeda remain murky, global terrorism has a home and hub in Baghdad.
Even before Sept. 11, the United States had ample reason to
topple the wretch. Saddam's violated every post-Desert Storm agreement.
That being said, American diplomacy needs time to create the
conditions for military action against Iraq. The Clinton administration's
August 1996 disaster still cripples U.S. efforts. That's when Saddam used an
internecine Kurd struggle to attack and destroy the CIA-backed dissident
base in northern Iraq. Credible reports suggest scores of anti-Saddam Iraqis
were captured and executed.
The Middle East is far too complex and paradoxical a place to
say one mistake or one provident act is a turning point. Yet the Gulf War
political coalition truly began to fray in the wake of that U.S. failure to
blunt Saddam's 1996 assault. The resulting fiasco seeded long-term doubts
about American commitment and reliability.
While U.S. actions since Sept. 11 have helped erase those
doubts, solidifying Iraqi dissidents and configuring Kurd guerrillas as an
anti-Saddam army aren't the only issues. Shaky sheiks, rattled by Osama bin
Laden and other radical Islamists, are another time-demanding problem.
Yet U.S. successes in Afghanistan have produced political
momentum. New information sources (particularly information gleaned from
defecting Taliban and captured Al Qaeda fighters) have increased what the
spy crowd calls "the granularity" of American intelligence. Though the
"clean-up phase" of military operations in Afghanistan will be difficult,
the pay-off is already evident.
In particular, the roots of Al Qaeda's African and Arabian
peninsula networks are showing. Western press sources report that other
Somali groups are ready to rat out al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (Islamic Unity),
an armed radical faction linked to bin Laden. Al Qaeda has other supporters
in Somalia and is closely tied to Islamist leaders in the Somali
"transitional government." The Somali Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA,
headquartered in the town of Baydhabo) has already offered troops as well as
a base for U.S. operations against Al Qaeda sites and support nodes in
Yes, that's a dicey offer, though as Somali factions go, the RRA
has little truck with Islamists. In fact, the RRA is allied with Ethiopia.
True, no hardcore Taliban-type group controls Somalia. Frankly,
in Somalia, no one is in control. Clans, like gangs, control street corners
and swaths of countryside. However, anarchy attracts terror cadres. U.S.
diplomats note the rampant anarchy in Somalia means the country can't "be
left to its own devices."
U.S. anti-terror operations in Somalia would leverage the
political and military presence of opposition factions (like the RRA).
However, the ability to use airbases under RRA control and the close
proximity of the Indian Ocean (the U.S. Navy is just offshore) mean "quick
strikes" from U.S. Army and Marine forces are a real option. The logistics
tail for U.S. ground operations in Somalia is much shorter and more flexible
than that in Afghanistan. A mix of airstrikes and coordinated raids would
destroy Al Qaeda material assets in Somalia. Bounties (in euros or U.S.
dollars) would induce Somali clansmen to turn in Al Qaeda operatives.
The destruction of Al Qaeda supporters and assets in Somalia and
eastern Yemen would maintain the Afghan momentum. Kicking off operations in
these areas sooner rather than later would re-emphasize the Bush
administration's key point that this is a war against global terrorism, not
simply a war with Osama bin Laden. Success in Somalia buys time to
strengthen the anti-terror coalition and prepare for the showdown with