US Journalist Warns: "Do not try to change the government in Afghanistan!"
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US Journalist Warns: "Do not try to change the government in Afghanistan!"

October 7, 2001

MID-EAST REALITIES © - MER - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 10/07: Late friday evening one of the leading American journalists who is an expert on the Middle East and Islamic affairs was asked a question on CNN to which she immediately briefly answered...and that was more was asked or answered.

Robin Wright, long-time correspondent for THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, and a woman known both for her expertise as well as for playing the game and usually not going too far beyond what her American audience wants to hear, was asked what she would warn the U.S. Government not to do if she were asked.. She immediately responded without having to give the question further thought at all it seemed: Do not try to forceably change the government in Afghanistan.

Wright was not given a chance to elaborate. The host indicated she'd be invited back. Not so far it seems.

And as of today its very clearly now the U.S. has decided to do just what Robin Wright so clearly warned against: use its overwhelming military and technological superiority to change the government in Afghanistan, destroy Osama bin-Laden and associates, and then move on to further phases in the new "crusade" publicly termed "campaign"...probably involving Baghdad and other groups on the American "terrorist list", including Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad...etc.


Diplomatic moves to unite tribal groupings

By Patrick Wintour in Islamabad,
Ian Traynor in Afghanistan and Ewen MacAskill

[The Guardian - Saturday October 6, 2001] The international community, led by the US and Britain, is working behind the scenes on an elaborate plan to topple the tottering Taliban as quickly as possible through diplomatic pressure and replace it with a broadly based government that is to some degree democratic.

The diplomatic drive, which western officials said would accelerate in the next few weeks, is designed to depose the Taliban, preferably before any military strike against Osama bin Laden, the main suspect for the New York and Washington attacks.

As part of the manoeuvring, the Northern Alliance, the main opposition to the Taliban, says it is calling Afghan tribal groups to a special meeting, the Loya Jirga, the rare but traditional forum for making momentous political changes.

Tony Blair, in Pakistan yesterday on a whirlwind 5,000-mile tour of the region, said he believed the elements were coming into place to destroy the Taliban. "The purpose is to ensure that we have a trap set around Afghanistan in which everyone supports the things we do," he said.

The US and Britain are sensitive to accusations from Muslim countries that they are trying to foist a government on Afghanistan. They are anxious to present the pressure for change as coming from within.

But British officials were adamant yesterday that the Northern Alliance, an ethnically diverse grouping as undemocratic as the Taliban, will not be allowed to take charge. One official said it would be "a recipe for disaster". Mr Blair, describing the sort of new government he hoped for, said: "Most people accept that the best thing for everyone is to have a broad-based, relatively stable and democratic as possible regime in Afghanistan."

A key role is planned for the exiled king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, 86, who lives in Rome. He is planning to go to the region next week. The former ruler is likely to be a figurehead for a governing system meant to include the country's diverse tribal groupings, rather than to have executive power.

A British official said the speedy disintegration of the Taliban was now a credible scenario. With money from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan being choked off, the Taliban would no longer be able to make the crucial payments to tribal chiefs for support.

There are reports of looting in Kabul and of the flight of Taliban leaders from the cities. The Northern Alliance claims that at least 10,000 of the 50,000-strong Taliban forces are ready to defect.

The new government envisaged by the west - perhaps optimistically, in light of Afghan history and divisions - will be a broad coalition encompassing Sunni and Shia Muslims as well as the various tribes: the Uzbek, Tajiks, Turkmen and Hazara tribes from the north but also the Pashtun, from which the Taliban are almost exclusively drawn.

Mr Blair succeeded in selling the scheme to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, whom he met on Thursday, and the Pakistani leader, General Pervez Musharraf, whom he saw yesterday.

He had to persuade Mr Putin that there would be a place in an Afghan coalition for the Northern Alliance, which Moscow supports, and to assure Gen Musharraf that the Pashtuns, who make up 50% of the population, would also be well represented.

Mr Blair said: "It is very important indeed to take account of the fact that Pakistan has a valid interest and close involvement in the arrange ments for any successor regime." Britain accepts that the absolute minimum for Pakistan is a government in Kabul that is not hostile to it.

British officials said the new government could even include some of the more "moderate" elements of the Taliban, the British official said. A case in point is the man who acts as the Taliban's foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil.

Western countries want a government that will ensure that terrorist groups such as Osama bin Laden's no longer get a haven, and that cracks down on the production of the poppies cultivated for opium.

They claim they also want a secure environment for the rebuilding of a country whose infrastructure has been reduced by 20 years of war to little more than two power plants and 200 miles of roads.

In a sign that any change of government could be carried out under UN auspices, the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has created a new post of chief envoy to Afghanistan for Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian-born diplomat who is a key figure in the world organisation.

As part of the diplomatic manoeuvring, the main Afghan groups exiled in Rome, Bonn and Cyprus - the latter backed by Iran - say they are coming together to support the Loya Jirga and the king.

A council of 60 Northern Alliance delegates and 60 Afghan leaders nominated by the former king's entourage could meet next week, preferably inside Afghanistan, to try to decide on the shape of a caretaker administration.

Abdullah Abdullah, foreign minister in the opposition government ousted by the Taliban in the mid-90s but still recognised by most of the world, said it would be better if an agreement was reached before the US strikes at the Taliban.

Dr Abdullah said the "national unity council" should meet within 10 days. "Our preference is for it to meet inside Afghanistan."


By Ed Vulliamy in New York

[The Observer - Sunday, October 7, 2001]: Investigators tracking Osama bin Laden have emerged as a cogent voice of caution over widespread United States military strikes against Afghanistan. There is pressure in America for action to match the rhetoric of President George Bush and others during the first weeks of the crisis, but one official from the security services said: 'This is not a war that will be won by impatience.'

But those charged with the most onerous task of all - killing or catching the world's most wanted man - acknowledge that widespread military action might crush the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which protects their target.

But, say sources in the intelligence community, the FBI and those preparing the legal case against bin Laden at the Justice Department, if such action allowed their target to escape it would prove catastrophic, igniting his terrorist network with 'more resolve than ever'.

In briefings with The Observer, sources said an absolute priority had to be placed on his delivery for trial in the US, or else production of a forensically verifiable corpse, whatever the ambitions for Afghanistan or wider aims in the war against terrorism

Officials in the Justice Department and intelligence services believe that the bin Laden network, still operative in cells across the globe, would implode if he were beheaded. Investigators laid out two scenarios: 'There's a notion that if you behead the snake, another two crawl out of the swamp,' said one official. 'This situation is the opposite: cut off the snake's head and the body shrivels up. The important thing is to get the man.'

On the other hand, if Afghanistan was bombed into submission and bin Laden survived, it would be like kicking open a hornet's nest: 'This would just burnish his image and make the network even more determined. The worst thing would be a military operation that caused civilian casualties, let him escape and steeled the resolve of his operatives.'

'It's a view of history,' said another official. 'It says that, if Hitler had been assassinated in 1935, the rest would probably not have happened.' Hawks in the Pentagon pour scorn on such words of caution: 'They have no belief in military power or that of the country,' said one.

The premium on delivering bin Laden or a body bag pitches the Justice Department and many in the intelligence services against these more bellicose factions in the Bush administration, which favour not only early strikes but a wide-ranging war on terrorism that incorporates Iraq. The argument is reported to have acted as a brake on military action last week.

Investigators acknowledge that bin Laden's presence has emboldened such organisations as Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza, and fundamentalist movements in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia and Algeria.

The premium on getting bin Laden has been illustrated by revelations in the Washington Post last week, charting a number of abortive CIA-backed operations to capture or kill him, mounted in conjunction with Pakistani intelligence. The Observer has learnt of a further episode that demonstrates current thinking in intelligence circles. In 1999, bin Laden was visiting one of his compounds in a 'large Afghan city'. US intelligence selected a short list of buildings where he was thought to be, and did blast calculations to work out how many civilians would die if they blew them up. But the risk assessment analysis deemed the potential 'collateral damage' too high.

Meanwhile, investigators concede, the US security services for years failed to 'look outside the box' of their global inquiries to predict an attack on US soil. They also tell The Observer that a counter terrorism report circulated last April urged security agencies to 'play down' bin Laden's influence in global terrorism.

The key problem, say officials, was reliance on wiretaps and surveillance rather than human Intelligence - i.e. spies. Officials said bin Laden's organisation made it well-nigh impossible to penetrate or recruit double agents. A spy would probably have to participate in terrorist actions to win the confidence of al-Qaeda.

During the past three years, intelligence monitoring of al-Qaeda had, said one official, picked up what now appear to have been false trails, deliberately laid for interception. Hoax messages and calls pointed to attacks in Europe and South America, and were closely followed by distracted US intelligence services.

Indications of another attack on the US were missed. Before 11 September, the CIA sent the FBI a list of 100 men known to have associations with bin Laden and believed to be resident in the US - the names of two of them resurfaced on the fateful day itself, among the hijackers.

Warning phrases had been picked up, such as 'they're going to pay the price' and 'we're ready to go', but many failed to reach the desks of the intelligence analysts until at least 48 hours later. Others went untranslated from Arabic.

Jargon and codewords used by the terrorists bypassed the CIA and FBI. It was not until they listened to wiretaps in the 1993 World Trade Centre bomb investigation that the FBI learned that the network uses the word hadduta - an Arabic term for a child's bedtime story - to mean a bomb. The oversights date back to the 1992 arrest of Sayyid Nosair, assassin of the Jewish extremist Mehir Kahane, in whose apartment police found bomb-making instructions, pictures of the World Trade Centre and pages of handwritten Arabic.

None of this material was inventoried or translated. 'You are getting these huge amounts of material and have no way to translate it. We had one guy who spoke Arabic,' recalls Michael Cherasky, investigations chief in the Manhattan District Attorney's office during the Kahane murder investigation.

The bomber in 1993 was Ramzi Yousef. Yousef had also been planning to hijack a plane and fly it into CIA headquarters or a nuclear power station,but the FBI thought the idea far-fetched.


[The Sunday Times, 7 October]: At 6ft 4in he is a big man, with a long black beard and furtive eyes. The price on his head in the FBI wanted poster is also imposing: $5m (£3.36m) is the bounty offered for Muhammad Atef.

The FBI is offering the fortune because Atef is one of the closest allies of Osama Bin Laden. He is also, it emerged this weekend, one of the key links between the terrorist chief and the suicide attacks in America on September 11.

The vast electronic eavesdropping operation of western intelligence has revealed, albeit belatedly, that Atef was the likely "mastermind" behind the meticulous planning of the operation, and conveyed the order for its execution. This is believed to form a key part of the evidence that has convinced leaders, both within Britain and overseas, that Bin Laden was responsible for the atrocities, but which has been withheld from public release for security reasons.

For more than a decade Atef has been a loyal follower of Bin Laden, rising to sit on the military committee of Al-Qaeda, the terrorist network. He takes "primary responsibility", according to the CIA, for the training of new members at camps in Afghanistan.

The ties extend beyond a shared ideology: in January, in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, Bin Laden's eldest son married Atef's daughter. This was more than the union of two families. It was a fusion between two of the world's most wanted men.

The FBI believes Atef, who also goes by the names Sheikh Taseer Abdullah and Abu Hafs al-Masri, is Bin Laden's military planner. Like his master, Atef is contemptuous of American leaders and military power. "They are only human beings whose power has been exaggerated because of their huge media and the control they exert over the world's media," he told an Arab journalist in 1999.

It was he who guided the bombers who blew up the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 224 people and injuring thousands more. Evidence presented during the trial of the bombers showed Atef had held meetings with the conspirators in Peshawar, northern Pakistan, and kept in touch with them by satellite phone.

The ghostly trails of other electronic communications are coming back to haunt him. Last week sources at both MI6 and the CIA independently revealed to The Sunday Times that "technical intelligence" - believed to be intercepted telephone conversations and electronic bank transfers - implicated Atef in the suicide jet attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The information comes after a 21-page dossier released by the British government last week was coy about its key points, accusing Bin Laden of being responsible for the attacks. "Since September 11," it stated, "we have learnt that one of Bin Laden's closest and most senior associates was responsible for the detailed planning of the attacks." That man, intelligence sources say, is Atef. If so, it is one of the vital "missing links" that ties Bin Laden and his network to the attacks.

The British government's dossier was oblique about another plank of the case against Bin Laden. "There is evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of Bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release," it stated.

Nobody except those who have seen the security reports can be sure what this evidence is. But one possibility emerged last week: an informed Whitehall source revealed that, among the proof collected, were intercepted exchanges between Bin Laden and his lieutenants, made shortly before September 11.

Two are of overriding significance. In one exchange, Bin Laden is said to have contacted an associate thought to be in Pakistan. The conversation referred to an incident that would take place in America on, or around, September 11 and discussed possible repercussions.

In a separate instance Bin Laden contacted another associate, thought to have been in Afghanistan. They discussed the scale and effect of a forthcoming operation; Bin Laden praised his colleague for his part in the planning.

Neither communication specifically mentioned the World Trade Center or the Pentagon - Bin Laden would never be so careless. Rather, it is the timing, context and nature of the exchanges, according to the intelligence source, that make it clear Bin Laden was discussing the suicide attacks.

The problem for Tony Blair, as he sought to press the case against Bin Laden last week, was that the information is sensitive in more ways than one. First, releasing full details could compromise the source or method of the intercepts.

Second, elements of the evidence were obtained not by British or US intelligence, but by a Middle Eastern country whose identity is not revealed for security reasons.

Whatever the source, the evidence is mounting. In a further development yesterday the German magazine Der Spiegel claimed that the FBI had obtained a video of talks between two of the hijackers and a man said to be Bin Laden's chief bodyguard. The trail that leads from the wreckage of ground zero in Manhattan to Bin Laden and his bases in Afghanistan is becoming clearer by the day.

At the US National Security Agency, the most secretive and powerful such service in the world, supercomputers hum around the clock, hoping to intercept or identify other communications between the hijackers or their commanders. Suspects' names, key words, phone numbers, e-mail addresses - all are noted and coded into "watch lists", then fed into the system.

The massively powerful data-crunchers are part of the Echelon surveillance system that links with similar computers at Britain's GCHQ in Cheltenham. It sifts billions of bits of information, quietly siphoned off from the satellites that transmit electronic communications. When a match occurs, it is automatically logged.

There are language difficulties and some material must be scrutinised by old-fashioned methods; it relies, too, on the watch lists being accurate. But at its best, officers need only to tap in a code to find out what has been intercepted relating to a specific subject or person.

Up on the 11th floor of the FBI headquarters in Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, other experts are also intent on their screens. This is the hub of the FBI's computer forensics team. As the world's biggest manhunt drives on, more than 50 specialists have been drafted in from other government agencies to help sift through the electronic trail that investigators believe may hold the firmest clues as to the planning and command structure of the terrorist attacks.

>From public libraries, internet companies, banks and credit-card firms, FBI agents are gathering records and e-mails. Some messages, in a mixture of English, Arabic and Urdu, have yielded "operational details" of the attack, according to one report.

Other items are tantalising but obscure: a notice retrieved from a Yahoo! financial discussion board was posted at 6.59pm on the day before the attacks. It read: "to the deapest part called the center of the earth by this wekend north east region will be destroyed new providance soon to fall apart [sic]".

More importantly, internet service providers can be used to track activity on individual accounts, even if they have registered anonymously. This, however, also has its flaws. Although some suspects are known to have used the net to buy airline tickets, or to study the use of crop-dusting planes for chemical attack, the most sensitive communications may have been in code, encrypted in pornography and other material, making the hunt for such information even harder.

Last week, though, investigators had a breakthrough: in France, detectives unearthed in the apartment of another terror suspect, Kamel Daoudi, an Arabic notebook that some believe may be an Al-Qaeda codebook. Daoudi, a computer student, is suspected of plotting bomb attacks on Nato headquarters and the American embassy in Paris.

The "codebook", still under examination, may have been used to hide messages in the welter of internet traffic, using a technique known as steganography. Electronic photographs and music files consist of thousands of "bits" of data in which secret information can be concealed. To the casual observer or listener, nothing is noticeable. Only if you know where to look is it easy to find the message.

Nevertheless, through the blizzard of information and false leads, investigators are piecing together a picture of the last days of the hijackers. Somewhere in their seemingly mundane routine of takeaway meals and cheap motels may lie the link that will not only bolster the case against Bin Laden but also help prevent other atrocities that many security advisers believe are imminent.

WHILE a clearer picture of all four hijacking teams is emerging, it is the background, travel plans and lifestyle of Mohammed Atta - the oldest hijacker, and believed to be the ringleader - that are still yielding the best evidence.

As well as discovering instructions for the last days before the attack, a will, maps, and aircraft training manuals in Atta's luggage (which failed to make his connecting flight out of Boston airport), investigators are now believed to have found records of travel and financial transactions that show Atta was in Afghanistan in 1999, establishing another link to Bin Laden.

According to reports in America yesterday, the CIA has acquired evidence that Atta met senior Al-Qaeda figures, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and one of Bin Laden's closest allies. After his visit to Afghanistan, Atta reported his passport stolen, perhaps to cover his tracks. So, too, did another of the hijackers, Marwan al-Shehhi.

In another intriguing twist, it has been discovered that in early 2000 Atta travelled to Prague, where he met an Iraqi intelligence officer. Czech government sources yesterday named him as Ahmed al-Ani, a former consul at the Iraqi embassy.

Soon afterwards Atta and al-Shehhi entered America and, in July, started pilot training in Florida. In February 2001 they rented a small plane and Atta made inquiries about crop dusters. Over the summer he and other suspects made several trips to Las Vegas, staying in cheap hotels and meeting in internet cafes and pizza restaurants.

The gambling mecca was ideal cover for a group of Islamic terrorists to meet inconspicuously. They played their parts, even frequenting a strip club called the Olympic Bar, according to FBI reports.

Atta and al-Shehhi, and two other suspected hijackers, then checked into the same hotel in Deerfeld Beach, Florida. They all bought tickets for American Airlines. The time was drawing near. By September 8 Atta was in Laurel, Maryland, where he went into a grocery store and wired $2,000 (£1,350) to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Then he did the same from an outlet called Mail Box Etc. Separately, three other suspected hijackers were also wiring money - $5,000 each - to the UAE.

On September 10 Atta and one of the others, Abdulaziz al-Omari, drove a rented Nissan to Portland, Maine. It was the last evening of their lives. The next day Atta, al-Omari and their two accomplices were all on AA flight 11, the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center. At almost the same time, according to Federal investigators, the man who had collected the money wired to the UAE left on a flight for Karachi, Pakistan. Who was he? Why did he leave? His name is thought be Mustafa Ahmad.

Intelligence agencies have files on him with links to Bin Laden that go back a decade or more. He is believed to be the paymaster who ran the finances of the suicide attacks. Together with Atef, he is emerging as a key middleman between the doctrine of Bin Laden and the frontline activities of the hijackers.

AT THE Capitol buildings in Washington last week officials from the FBI, CIA and Defence Intelligence Agency were briefing members of Congress. They had "new information" that indicated further attacks were highly likely, especially if America strikes at Afghanistan.To this end, the US has been contacting security services across the world in an effort to identify and locate any accomplices or associates of the hijackers.

At the heart of this global manhunt is a new list, drawn up by the FBI, of 370 suspects and vital witnesses. Obtained by The Sunday Times, after inadvertently appearing on a Finnish government website, the list details nationalities, aliases, phone numbers and e-mail accounts, and paints a far broader picture of the extent and progress of the manhunt than has been publicly revealed.

Some entries offer tantalising leads: one Saudi Arabian from Jeddah who appears on the list used the e-mail address It is not clear whether the account was registered before or after September 11.

Those identified originate from 30 countries, with 53 coming from Saudi Arabia, five from Egypt, four from Syria, four from Lebanon, four from Morocco, four from Kuwait, three from France, and two from Germany. Some have British connections. Djamel Beghal was arrested earlier this year in Dubai and is said to have confessed to taking orders from Bin Laden to bomb the American embassy in France.

The new list details how he once lived in a three-bedroom house in Rose Street, Leicester. Neighbours said Beghal and his family had quit in a hurry a year ago, leaving washing on the line.

Another notable name on the list is that of Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot, who was first tracked down and interviewed by The Sunday Times in Colnbrook, Berkshire, a fortnight ago. After being arrested by armed police, he has been accused of being a leading trainer of the hijackers and is fighting extradition.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected 20th hijacker and another entry on the FBI's list, currently under arrest in America, also had strong links to Britain. It now seems clear he regularly attended an Islamic prayer group in London that, until last year, met at the Four Feathers youth club near Baker Street. The group was led by an extremist cleric called Omar Mahmood Abu Omar, better known under his alias of Abu Qatada.

A political refugee in Britain since 1993, Qatada, 40, has twice been convicted for his role in terrorist acts in Jordan. He was arrested in February, with nine other men, during Operation Odin, a Scotland Yard investigation into a suspected Islamic terrorist cell in London. Qatada, now free, still lives in London, to the consternation of the French security services, which are alarmed at the ease with which extremist cells have been able to develop in the capital.

As America and Britain marshal their forces around Afghanistan, the hunt goes on for cells still lying low, not helped by an embarrassing admission from police in Hamburg, who said yesterday that one of their key suspects, known only as Mohammed B, was prematurely released and is now missing. Will there be more attacks? Where will they occur?

Nobody can be sure but, as a senior German intelligence officer said last week: "If one looks at how Al-Qaeda has responded to other attacks, it has carefully observed the weak points of each country. The wrong people do not make certain phone calls. Britain is a better place to operate than Germany, and to lose one's identity. It's much easier to travel.

"All the clues lead to London. All the roads lead to London. You find every faction of the Islamic fundamentalists in London."


It is not the violence of Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organisation which marks them off from other movements in history. A long list of regimes - from the Mongols and Crusaders down to the Soviet secret police, the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge and Hutu militiamen in Rwanda - have killed more innocent people without compunction. What really distinguishes the attackers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is their willingness to kill themselves. This in itself is rare, and within Islam even more so, which considers suicide to be sinful. But there are precedents, perhaps the most infamous being the Ismaili sect known as the Assassins, led by Hassan Sabbah.

There are remarkable parallels between this sect, which flourished in the 11th century in northwest Iran, and the messianic vision shared by Al-Qaeda's adherents: in particular the idea of following a messianic leader and the concept of entry into paradise through a martyr's death. There are other similarities in their methodology. According to scripts of the time, the Asssassins described themselves not as murderers, but as executioners.

'We must act in public as an example,' they wrote. 'By killing one man we terrorise 100,000. However, it is not enough to die, for if, by killing, we discourage our enemies from undertaking any action against us, by dying in the most courageous fashion, we force the masses to admire us and from their midst men will come to join us. Dying is more important than killing. We kill to defend ourselves, but we die to convert and conquer.'

The words could have come from Osama himself, but the similarities do not end there: the Assassins also studied their victims in great detail, learning how to use knives, memorise codes, adopt local dialects and infiltrate a foreign environment for weeks on end until the moment was right. Whether by design or otherwise, the devotees of Al-Qaeda have learned all the lessons of their infamous predecessors.


By Tony Allen-Mills

[Sunday Times - UK, Washington, 7 October] RICHARD MARCINKO will never forget the longest night of his life, a nightmare of military catastrophe that ended in "screams and chaos - the sounds of brave men burning to death".

As one of America's most experienced SpecWarriors - experts in special forces warfare - Marcinko was called to a heavily insulated Pentagon "situation room" in 1980 to hear the satellite communications of Colonel "Charging" Charlie Beckwith's audacious attempt to snatch American hostages from the US embassy in Tehran.

Marcinko's terrorist action team listened in horror as helicopters carrying a newly formed unit of Delta Force elite troops - modelled on Britain's SAS - ran into desert sandstorms, got lost, suffered mechanical failure and collided with a refuelling aircraft.

"It was the unthinkable," Marcinko said. "The world's allegedly dominant superpower had just blown a one-off chance against a bunch of raghead terrorists."

Twenty-one years and several deadly setbacks later, the cream of America's military is looking to Afghanistan to exorcise the ghosts of Iran and other special forces failures. Yet, with action looming against Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban protectors, there are signs that the Pentagon has been forced to rethink an initial offensive strategy that appeared heavily reliant on the lightning mobility and unconventional military skills of US special forces. Even the most gung-ho supporters of the US army's Green Berets, its Delta Force shock troops and the US navy's counter-terrorist Seals, were worried last week that the elite commando units would find it hard living up to public expectations.

"Very few of the lads going to work out there have faced an enemy or a terrain this nasty," warned Marcinko, a former Seal commander who wrote a bestselling book about his experiences. "Their first chore will be survival. Kicking ass comes second."

As a vast US military mobilisation continues, well-informed military sources believe that the planned role for special forces, while still crucial, has changed radically.

The lessons of past fiascos - notably in Somalia in 1993, when 18 US soldiers died in a botched special forces raid on a local warlord - have been studied in exhaustive detail. Pressures from America's regional allies - not only Muslim leaders of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, but also the Russians and Chinese - have caused continual headaches.

The result, one military source said, has been a "philosophical debate" at the Pentagon that boils down to a single question: given the complexity of the military, political and diplomatic challenge, which weapon in the American arsenal should be launched at Afghanistan first?

If the Taliban think that Washington will only risk bombing from afar, or sending in hit-and-run special forces, they may be in for a surprise.

Andy Messing fought as a special forces officer in Vietnam, Grenada and El Salvador. As the director of a small Washington think tank specialising in low-intensity conflict he has observed combat in 24 countries. A week ago he was invited to a Pentagon briefing by Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary.

Messing believes the Pentagon is planning to use conventional forces in a much larger offensive role than previously imagined. Light infantry, marine and other commando units may spearhead a rapid push to destroy the Taliban and "smoke out" Bin Laden.

Using what they hope will be rapidly upgraded intelligence from deserting Taliban officers and intensive electronic surveillance, the special forces teams would then move in to strike at Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda strongholds.

"The initial show they described was a special ops one," said Messing. "But I think they have decided to start with special ops supporting conventional forces, then flip-flop the other way round - conventional supporting special when they go for specific targets."

Such a scenario would probably be preceded by a short, intensive bombing campaign, aimed at dividing and demoralising the Taliban, and encouraging mass defections.

"Defections are a common part of fighting in Afghanistan, but in many ways the game is really yet to begin," said a British military source. "There will be lots of commanders in Afghanistan watching to see what will occur."

US officials indicated last week that a range of precision-guided weapons will be aimed at Taliban targets such as headquarters buildings in Kabul and Kandahar, airfields and military bases at Shibarghan and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and training camps near Jalalabad.

No civilian structures, bridges or roads are likely to be targeted, for fear of worsening the refugee crisis. Some anti-Taliban commanders have reportedly warned US officials that any falling bombs will spark off unmanageable chaos.

One US official was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying that the bombing campaign would be a "very precise effort over several days" to end Taliban control. But the official added: "It's the secondary effect we are relying on."

Within hours of the bombs falling, several thousand US troops may pour across Afghanistan's borders to engage Taliban fighters and provoke Al-Qaeda terror groups into flight. American surveillance satellites and pilotless reconnaissance drones will be listening for any communications that might detect Al-Qaeda groups trying to keep each other informed.

Several senior officers at the Pentagon are believed to be arguing that bombing alone will not be enough to produce the intelligence America needs to locate either Bin Laden or the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. A ground invasion, however short-lived, might provide the surprise element to flush Bin Laden out.

At the same time, Messing and many other officers believe that it could be disastrous for the Americans to "fix forces" on Afghan soil for any length of time. "The Russians tried that and got the crap knocked out of them," said Messing.

An operation involving a mass airlift of US troops - either from aircraft carriers in the Gulf or from previously arranged staging posts across Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan - may last no longer than a couple of days.

At that point, Messing and others believe, special forces will take over. Some units will be responsible for psychological operations, known as psyops. They might seize a radio station and broadcast reassuring messages, making it clear that the target of the attacks is not the people of Afghanistan, but Bin Laden and his protectors. They may simply tour in armoured Humvee vans, broadcasting through loudspeakers in local languages.

Marcinko hopes some units will send cruder psychological messages, decapitating Al-Qaeda terrorists, parading their heads on sticks and announcing that their bodies have been washed in pig's blood - anathema to Muslims. "These are not logical people, so you have to respond to them in a language they understand," Marcinko said. "When you kill them, you should do it nastily."

But the holy grail of the coming operation will be to retrieve the head of Bin Laden or some of his lieutenants.

"I would be surprised if he is still in Afghanistan," said Messing. "The idea that he would just sit there waiting for the hammer to fall is a bit too far-fetched for me."

Marcinko is convinced Bin Laden is still there. "He wants the holy jihad; he doesn't mind dying for his cause," Marcinko said. "He'll become a true martyr if he stays."

Rumsfeld has said Washington "has a handle" on where Bin Laden is hiding, but the omens for capturing him are not encouraging. From the Desert One disaster in Iran to the wreckage of Somalia, from helicopter crashes in Grenada to endless frustration in Iraq, US special forces have been dogged by failure.

Delta and other units have struggled to acquire the élan of the SAS. During the Gulf war, described by one expert last week as "a war in which virtually everything went right militarily", US special forces were nevertheless bedevilled by "faulty intelligence, hostile natives, miserable terrain and bad luck", said Rick Atkinson, author of a book on the conflict.

More than 800 men from two Delta Force units, a US army ranger company and a helicopter unit spent the war hunting for Iraqi Scud missile launchers and never found one. One US team spent 60 hours dug into a desert hide deep in Iraq and saw nothing but two bedouins and a camel.

Which helps to explain why the Pentagon's build-up has had to be measured and cautious. On his tour of the region last week, Rumsfeld warned that the crackdown on international terrorism would be "a lot more like a cold war than a hot war".

He did not mention that winning the cold war took America 40 years.

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October 2001


Bio and Nuclear Threats Escalate As Purposeful Leaks Proliferate to Mass Media
(October 26, 2001)
The timing of newsstories like this in the major Western media should be suspect now more than ever. For more than ever in fact governments and intelligence agencies are using the mass media by leaking things at times of convenience and more importantly with their own twists and turns.

"Stop Israel!" Pleads Israeli Professor
(October 26, 2001)
One Israeli, not invited by the naive and misguided American Jewish "liberals" to the USA, speaks up from Israel with tremendous courage and conviction. Her name is Tanya Reinhart and she deserves to be taken very seriously -- though far too many don't even know about her.

"Palestinian Statehood" - Another Grotesque Deception Unfolds
(October 25, 2001)
The political smokescreens are lifting a bit as the pressures build to go beyond mere words, yet at the same time a purposeful distorting haze is taking over. Bottom line: the kind of "Palestinian State" Yasser Arafat has maneuvered his people toward and is being cornered into implementing is a grotesque distortion of their aspirations and of what use to be meant by the term "Palestinian State."

"A Pen Bought And Sold" - A Saudi Poem Revisited - MER FlashBack
(October 21, 2001)
Change comes in the Middle East, as elsewhere, in complex ways. There is the regular daily news of course; and in the region especially it is inextricably intertwined with an ever-more-sophisticated and propagandistic journalistic establishment.

(October 24, 2001)
Both of the Georges are oh so full of themselves cocky -- just the personality type so many American's truly love. One is (to the amazement of many who wonder how in the world the U.S. chooses such persons to lead it) the President of the United States.

Massacres and Devastation Escalate Further In Palestine
(October 24, 2001)
The Palestinians are essentially defenseless with their backs up against the wall, the firing wall. Their "leadership" has been so corrupted and infiltrated that the Arafat regime has hardly any credibility with its own, not to mention anyone else.

Torture Now Coming to USA?
(October 22, 2001)
Adopting the tactics (as well as the goals) of the Israelis, and the methods long taught by the CIA in Latin America as well as the Middle East, the brave new world post 11 September is changing the face of the American homeland in ways nearly all Americans would have seriously resisted just a few long weeks ago.

Millions Likely To Die in Afghanistan U.N. Warns
(October 21, 2001)
As for Afghanistan, the American CIA worked behind the scenes to bring on the Soviet invasion of 1979, then engaged the Soviet Empire in a way that brought about the near-total devastation of Afghanistan and a huge uncounted death toll.

It's "New Imperialism" says leading British MP
(October 21, 2001)
Much pressure is building at the United Nations to not open itself to still more charges of being complicitous in "genocide", not to mention to do something to stop being seen as "an extension of the American State Department" (the actual private words of a senior U.N. official).

"Comply! Resistance Is Futile!"
(October 20, 2001)
British MP (Member of Parliament) George Galloway calls it the "new imperialism" (his article coming later today). On the whole the Anglo-British press is working up quite a frenzy (with notable exceptions like The Guardian and The Independent in the UK, sometimes The Nation in the U.S.).

The "Arafat Era" Collapsing or About To Be Reborn?
(October 20, 2001)
Yasser Arafat is losing both his grip on power (extended to him by the Israelis and the Americans for the past decade since the Gulf War) and his credibility (with his own people) at the same time.

The Coming Arab Crash
(October 19, 2001)
The west's most important friends in the Arab Middle East - Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah of Jordan, Mubarak of Egypt and the PLO's Yasser Arafat - are probably the world's most vulnerable political quartet.

Saudi Amb Bandar Badly Fails, Saudi Royals in Paralysis, US Relations in Doubt
(October 19, 2001)
Prince Bandar bin Sultan's 20+ year strategy has now substantially failed. Years ago, very much behind-the-scenes of course, the very controversial and in some circles much despised Saudi Ambassador in Washington began a relationship with the some of the most conservative and militant circles in Washington, very much including those associated with the powerful Israeli/Jewish lobby.

Worse Than Worthless Wartime "Promises"
(October 18, 2001)
The list of broken and disingenuous "promises" made to the Arabs by Western political leaders is something befitting a "Saturday Night Live" parody skit -- if only they would dare!

"New Era" Says Sharon Reacting In Character to "Gandhi" Assassination
(October 17, 2001)
He had called the Palestinians "lice" and "vermin" and "cancer", and he had urged their "transfer" or "extermination". Just Monday he has tendered his resignation as Minister of Tourism, insisting that Ariel Sharon was being too moderate and too compromising.

(October 17, 2001)
As for the British, what's going on in both Palestine and Kashmir, the two most likely potential nuclear flashpoints in our world today, can be traced back directly to what the British did in these areas when they were the "Empire"

(October 17, 2001)
For some time now Palestinians have been warning that because of Israel's assassination of Palestinian leaders, "crossing the red line" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they would respond.

Red Cross Bombed in Kabul Before Presidential Red Cross Visit in Washington
(October 16, 2001)
You gotta love the chutzpa of the Americans. Today the President went a few blocks from the White House to the Headquarters of the American Red Cross -- a little photo op designed to further enlist "the children of America" in his recently announced effort to help the children of Afghanistan. But just as President Bush was getting ready to do his Red Cross pictures reports came in from Afghanistan that the major Red Cross center in Kabul, complete with large Red Cross emblem on its roof, was destroyed by American bombs.

Saudi/U.S. "Meltdown"? And Neutralizing Al Jazeera With A Firm Embrace
(October 16, 2001)
While American and British officials rush to make one TV appearance after another with continual reassurances everything is going "as planned", that's not quite the reality of the situation as this article in today's Guardian makes quite evident.

What Can We Do About Terrorism? by Lt. Col Robert M. Bowman (ret)
(October 15, 2001)
"Mr. President, you did not tell the American people the truth about why we are the targets of terrorism. You said that we are the target because we stand for democracy, freedom, and human rights in the world. Baloney! We are the target of terrorists because we stand for dictatorship, bondage, and human exploitation in the world."

Pentagon Far More Confused and Uncertain Than Americans Realize
(October 15, 2001)
The Bush administration is growing increasingly alarmed by the direction of the military campaign in Afghanistan after a week of almost continuous bombing has failed to dislodge either Osama bin Laden or the Taliban leadership.

Al-Qaeda Weekend Statement
(October 15, 2001)
This isn't really about "secret messages". Anyone with a $300 satellite dish can watch the statements in full, in Arabic, on al Jazeera; and the text is widely available on the Internet, in this case from London and the BBC!

Hundreds Dead in Nigeria
(October 14, 2001)
Hundreds of people have been killed in religious clashes after anti-U.S. protests turned violent, sources have told CNN. The demonstrations against the U.S.-led missile strikes on Afghanistan began peacefully on Friday but spiralled into a killing spree during Saturday, CNN's Lagos bureau chief Jeff Koinange said.

akistan's Benazir Opens Campaign in Washington as Pakistan Trembles Anarchy
(October 14, 2001)
Benazir Bhutto came to Washington this week to open her campaign for a third term as Prime Minister of the world's second largest, and only nuclear armed, Muslim State -- her first two terms she was overthrown, political and financial corruption was rampant, and her arranged husband remains in a Karachi prison.

Iraq Likely To Be Next "Phase"
(October 14, 2001)
A powerful coalition of "hawkish" government officials, lobbyists (especially those connected with the Israelis and the arms corporations), conservative press publications and columnists, many of the national Jewish organizations, as well as millions of Christian fundamentalists associated with Pat Robertson and his daily TV "700 Club" program, is mobilized to make sure that "America's new war" does not end with Afghanistan and al-Qaeda.

Saudi Royals Bugged, Embarrassed, Unstable
(October 13, 2001)
The following information is about to come out in THE NEW YORKER MAGAZINE on Monday and is being leaked in Washington this weekend to stir up interest and try to get publicity for the magazine and author on the Sunday talk shows tomorrow.

Attacks and Demonstrations Escalating in Arab and Muslim Countries
(October 13, 2001)
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in various cities in the Middle East to protest the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan. Many more thronged to mosques for Friday prayers throughout the region and heard anti-American sermons.

Western Commando Forces Getting Ready
(October 13, 2001)
This article in The Telegraph today is a good outline of what now seems likely to be immediately ahead in Afghanistan, pushed forward by weather considerations as well as by current expectations that American-sponsored key governments in Pakistan, Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, as well as the Arafat Regime, will all be able to weather the political storms with much expanded and mostly covert continual help from the western governments and intelligence services.

"War of the Worlds" by Mark Bruzonsky
(October 11, 2001)
In the case of America's new war, the full might of the USA is being mobilized not against the armies of other nation states, but against the fanatical descendants of a puritanical militant Islam whose calling has become relentless opposition to American hegemony and passionate assertion of their own quaintly medieval religious constructs.

Arafat Begs Israelis To Save Him
(October 10, 2001)
It's a most complicated political dance than ever at this historical crossroads. But bottom line Yasser Arafat and his regime have now, even more than before, thrown their future to the Israelis and the now omnipresent CIA...

Uri Avneri - Fronting for Arafat and for a Castrated "Palestinian State"
(October 10, 2001)
The Israeli writer and activist Uri Avneri is "on tour" in the USA on his way to Washington. It shouldn't come as a surprise that a few naive or on- the-take "peace groups" -- Jewish and otherwise -- have invited him to speak.

After Afghanistan, U.S. has Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine in its Sights
(October 10, 2001)
In this case there should be no one saying down the road that they didn't know what was being planned. The Americans have said publicly and in many different ways right from the start of this "new war" that it wasn't going to end with Osama bin Laden, with the Taliban government, or with Afghanistan.

The "Palestinian State" Charade
(October 9, 2001)
Most of the Arab regimes, including that of Yasser Arafat, have proved themselves so co-opted and so gullible over the years that you can't blame the Americans for continuing to try their little tricks and deceptions -- just look how well, at least from their point-of-view, such things have worked in the past..

Anthrax Terrorism Now Likely
(October 9, 2001)
Federal officials suspect foul play rather than an environmental source is at the root of two Florida anthrax cases that have left one man dead and hundreds of co-workers lining up for medical tests.

Biological Attack? Inept or Demonstration?
(October 9, 2001)
Is someone sending a message that they can do it, a kind of primative, and deadly, deterrence attempt to try to protect themselves? Might this be an "inept attack" as today's TIMES in London suggests in its headline? As the third case of Anthrax in Florida is reported this morning, something seems to be up as the following reports indicate.

Bush versus bin Laden - Syria Elected to Security Council
(October 8, 2001)
It's all quite amazing really, President George W. Bush versus Osama bin Laden. On the one hand you have the most powerful man in the world commanding the full might of not only the world's only superpower but a whole entourage of Western European allies, the new Russia, and to a considerable extent at least behind-the-scenes many Arab and Muslim "client regimes".

Arafat's Army Opens Fire On Its Own - More Anthrax in Florida?
(October 8, 2001)
The Palestinian leadership rushed to distance itself Monday from Osama bin Laden while its police forces opened fire on university students protesting the U.S.-led military strikes on Afghanistan.

FBI Knocked...He's Not Home But You Can Find Him at the White House
(October 8, 2001)
Now the world will become much more confusing and dangerous, and the opponents of the American Empire will obviously be forced even deeper underground -- both literally and figuratively -- becoming even more insular and isolated among themselves leading to who knows what kind of future blowback.

US Journalist Warns: "Do not try to change the government in Afghanistan!"
(October 7, 2001)
Late friday evening one of the leading American journalists who is an expert on the Middle East and Islamic affairs was asked a question on CNN to which she immediately briefly answered...and that was more was asked or answered.

"Our Friends are Killers, Crooks and Torturers"
(October 7, 2001)
Surely the British Prime Minister should know better than to try to simplify such a complex world we live in to that understandable by a third-grader. If not we have a little weekend reading Mr. Blair should be doing, starting in one of his own newspapers which we surely hope, especially now, he can find a few moments to read on a regular basis, The Independent.

History Corrected - U.S. Wanted Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
(October 6, 2001)
The world believes that there was an invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union on 24 December 1979 and then, in response, the U.S. and Muslim countries rallied to help Afghanistan repel the invaders. Wrong...just as so much of the widely accepted history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the actual realities of U.S. involvements in the Middle East are wrong because of the manipulation of history by various governments and intelligence agencies -- most especially the U.S. and Israel, the CIA and the Mossad.

(October 6, 2001)
"Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government's record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things - to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)?"

(October 5, 2001)
The government in Afghanistan, popularly known as The Taliban, has finally taken what could be a significant step. Just hours ago through its official representative in Pakistan the Afghan government has publicly offered to turn Osama bin Laden over...not to the United States, but to another Islamic country.

(October 5, 2001)
"The women in the audience -- academics, union members, mental health workers and advocates for female inmates, embraced her anti-American rhetoric, repeatedly interrupting her with cheers and standing ovations."

(October 5, 2001)
Now we know that a few years ago, when President Bill Clinton was meeting privately one-on-one with the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, the U.S. "hired" the agents of the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) to assassinate Osama bin Laden.

(October 3, 2001)
The United States and Britain yesterday called off military strikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan at the last minute. Washington officials say today that a severe attack of last-minute cold feet by some key Arab members of the coalition caused President Bush to postpone the operation.

(October 3, 2001)
Osama bin Laden, arch nemesis of America today, is blowback from recent history -- the Gulf war, the permanent stationing of American forces in Arabia, and other American policies in the region, including the deceptive "peace process" fronting for Israel's brutal subjugation of the Palestinians.

(October 3, 2001)
The American Secretary of Defense is rushing to the Middle East, goal #1 to try one more time to "convince" the Saudis that Prince Sultan Airbase and its super-modern regional control center -- just completed in fact during the summer at a cost of many billions -- is needed for the new war.

(October 2, 2001)
"Drafted with a small coterie of loyal aides, mainly civilian political appointees at the Pentagon, the plans argue for open-ended war without constraint either of time or geography and potentially engulfing the entire Middle East and central Asia... The plans put before the President during the past few days involve expanding the war beyond Afghanistan to include similar incursions by special ops forces - followed by air strikes by the bombers they would guide - into Iraq, Syria and the Beqaa Valley area of Lebanon, where the Syrian-backed Hizbollah (Party of God) fighters that harass Israel are based."

(October 2, 2001)
Anyone with an ear tuned to Washington's politicians, lobbyists, and opinion molders can hear it quite loudly and clearly at this point. After taking down Osama bin Laden's al Queda network (said to be in some 50+ countries), after changing the government in Afghanistan, the American-led crusade (now more politely known by Colin Powell's term "campaign") will attempt to march on through the Middle East, next stop Baghdad.

(October 2, 2001)
It took them who intially talked of "crusade" nearly three weeks to figure out that all the "coalition building" wasn't going nearly as well as they keep saying in public and that doing something about all the Israeli oppression and "terrorism" against the essentially imprisoned Palestinian population would be a good idea in the post 11 September world and before the bombs start falling on Muslims here and there.

(October 1, 2001)
The situation is now so tense in Israel in dealing with the "Palestinian Authority" -- which it should be remembered the Israelis themselves created just a few years ago -- that Shimon Peres is getting more and more desperate.

(October 1, 2001)
The Palestinian opposition is usually very weak and confused. Had that not been the case for some time now Yasser Arafat would never have been able to do the things he has done for so long now, especially since the Gulf War; nor would Arafat have have been able to retain power these past few traumatic years, however weakened himself at this point.

(October 1, 2001)
Yes, it will be very interesting to see if and how Noam Chomsky answers the at first blush surprising attacks from Christopher Hitchens, who has now not only endorsed the new war but also at least parts of the "New World Order" that underpins it.

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