1) END OF AN ERROR
[THE TIMES, London - Friday, 19 October]: Saudi Arabia and Arafat must choose terrorism or survival Conflict forces choices that leaders would rather not make. Arab rulers, though appalled by the attacks on September 11, have tried to avoid endorsing the US-led operations against the Taleban so as not to inflame public opinion. But the appeasement of Islamist militancy is proving a mistake. Countries that tolerate terrorist networks put themselves at risk; and militant anti-Western incitement now threatens virtually all established rulers in the Middle East.
None is more exposed than the House of Saud. Its destruction is a main aim of Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaeda has vowed to drive Western "crusader" forces from the Arabian Peninsula. Yet the Saudi Royal Family rests its legitimacy on its role as the guardian of Mecca and Medina, the upholder of Islamic values and the guarantor of a paternalistic State. The Government has tried to face both ways. It has indulged religiosity with indiscriminate payments to Islamic causes and foundations, many of which have fostered extremism and aided bin Laden, while also promising America to use its power as a force for regional stability.
Now the Saudis are forced to choose between survival as a deeply conservative, pro-Western society or a capitulation to the obscurantist mullahs who would establish a religious dictatorship similar to the Taleban. The Government has, at last, chosen to crack down on the Islamists. In an unprecedented warning to security officials, Prince Nayef, the Interior Minister, denounced the "sick" extremists who hid in caves, abused security in the name of Islam and misled ordinary people.
No one would be allowed to "outbid us on Islam", he added, nor would the Government tolerate dictation from outside. His words were reinforced by the arrest of around 100 leading Islamist activists, the violent dispersal of demonstrators in Mecca and the ban on any cleric declaring jihad.
Yassir Arafat also is compelled to choose between decisive action or likely overthrow. Ariel Sharon has given the Palestinian leader seven days in which to hand over the assassins of Rehavam Zeevi. Otherwise, the Israeli Prime Minister made clear that the Israelis will reoccupy all the West Bank, deal with the killers themselves and reimpose closures, curfews and iron rule in the occupied territories. The killing, he said, changed everything. Israel has now concluded that the Arafat era is over and that any further talks with him are useless. Some Cabinet ministers are calling for his expulsion from the Palestinian territories.
Mr Arafat knows that Israel has the military strength and determination to carry out such a threat. No Arab state is able or likely to respond for days, if at all. Tanks already ring Ramallah. Israeli troops are firing on demonstrators.
Token arrests will not satisfy Israel. Mr Arafat, already branded an Israeli puppet by Hamas and Islamic militants, may fear a knife in the ribs if he hands over the assassins; but unless he does, not even the West will have much faith in his ability to exercise power within the Palestinian Authority. No Israeli, on the Left as much as on the Right, will deal with a man who cannot deliver them up. Among the Palestinians, democrats are disillusioned by the corruption around Mr Arafat while militants increasingly ignore his word. His back, as often, is to the wall; only then, on past form, does he act. One of the hardest choices he has had to make faces him now.
2) THE U.S. MESSAGE TO THE TALIBAN By Julian Borger in Washington, Rory McCarthy in Islamabad and Richard Norton-Taylor
"Attention. You are condemned....You will be attacked by land, sea and air... Resistance is futile... Surrender now and we will let you live."
[The Guardian - Saturday October 20, 2001]: US electronic warfare planes were yesterday broadcasting bloodcurdling warnings to Taliban soldiers, telling them how to surrender and threatening them with certain death if they failed to give themselves up.
The extraordinary propaganda campaign is one of a series of signs that special forces combat operations in Afghanistan are imminent, as helicopter-borne elite units gather on the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in the Arabian sea.
The messages being broadcast from the EC-130E planes flown by the Pennsylvania National Guard's 193rd special operations wing - nicknamed Commando Solo - are brutally straightforward.
They warn that any Taliban soldiers who fail to hand themselves over by the time the ground assault begins will be given no quarter.
"Attention, Taliban. You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death," the broadcasts say in Pashtu and Dari.
"You will be attacked by land, sea and air... Resistance is futile," it continues. "When you decide to surrender, approach United States forces with your hands in the air. Sling your weapon across your back, muzzle toward the ground. Remove your magazine and expel any rounds. Doing this is your only chance of survival."
The campaign is designed to minimise resistance from Taliban forces protecting Osama bin Laden and his supporters once the ground assault begins. The EC-130E plane can break into commercial or military television and radio stations, swamping regions with propaganda.
The Pentagon confirmed yesterday that special forces units were already behind Taliban lines talking to warlords loosely allied to the Islamist militia, and assisting a CIA operation aimed at persuading them to switch sides before the shooting starts.
Preparations for the assault were reported to be complete yesterday. The Kitty Hawk is loaded with night-flight helicopters ready to fly small units of elite troops on "search-and-destroy" missions aimed at the Taliban leadership and Bin Laden's al-Qaida organisation.
US military officials said the helicopter-borne assault missions would stop off at Pakistani bases on their way into battle to refuel and to pick up extra troops and equipment.
Pakistani police and soldiers have imposed a tight security cordon around the small airport in Jacobabad, the southern town which is likely to be a principal staging post but where support is strong for one of Pakistan's most hardline religious parties, the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam.
Pakistan is to let US forces use airports in Pasni and Dalbandin, close to the Afghan border. Civilian flights to all three have been cancelled. The military regime has said they will be used for "logistical support" only.
The airborne broadcasts followed 12 days of intense bombing aimed at destroying Taliban air defences. Yesterday, US air force F15 Strike Eagle warplanes were in action in support of the Northern Alliance opposition attempting to capture the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif. An eight-man team of special forces liaison officers was also reported to be travelling with a Northern Alliance general.
Alongside the messages aimed at Taliban soldiers, US electronic warfare planes were yesterday broadcasting gentler messages to Afghan civilians. "Attention. People of Afghanistan, United States forces will be moving through your area... Please for your own safety stay off bridges and roadways and do not interfere with our troops or military operations," they say.
US officials have said that the initial combat operations in Afghanistan are likely to be "hit-and-run" helicopter raids involving small teams of elite soldiers attempting to hunt down al-Qaida members and the Taliban leadership, or direct missile attacks from above by US strike aircraft. At some point, the US-led forces may seize an airbase inside Afghanistan close to their targets.
Britain's contribution to the forthcoming ground campaign could include marine commandos, gurkhas, and paratroopers, defence sources said yesterday. Some 800 Royal Marines are based on HMS Ocean which has ten Sea King helicopters on board. The helicopter carrier is taking part in a large, pre-planned, exercise in Oman which ends on November 1.
A squadron of about 50 SAS soldiers are also participating in the exercise.
A decision on what British forces the US wants is likely to be made before then.
3) DIPLOMACY IS NOW THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION By TIM HAMES
Colin Powell is attempting to fight the war on terrorism on too many fronts
[The Times, London, Friday 19 October]: Assassination, Benjamin Disraeli said after the death of Abraham Lincoln, "has never changed the course of history". That view, as events in the Middle East will prove, was mistaken. The murder of Rehavam Zeevi, Israel's Tourism Minister, on Wednesday does, however, prove that assassination is a paradoxical business.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel and is hardly sympathetic to American interests. Yet by its deeds it has strengthened the political hand of Ariel Sharon and may have saved the United States from a diplomatic initiative of considerable folly.
There is no doubt which member of the Bush Administration is currently the most uncomfortable. Colin Powell has set himself three separate but interconnected tasks and is making minimal progress on all of them. The Secretary of State has sought to construct an alternative regime for Afghanistan acceptable to just about everyone; to reassure India and Pakistan that both are held with equal affection by the United States, which agrees with each of them on Kashmir; and aspires to a new American approach to the Middle East which could simultaneously placate Israeli and Arab opinion. This strategy certainly does not want for ambition, merely credibility.
The intervention of the PFLP has reduced the prospects of outright political conflict between the United States and Israel. The Secretary of State is due shortly to deliver a speech on the Middle East peace process which, his aides insist, would be but an "amplification" of an approach hammered out within the Administration before the attacks on New York and Washington. This address is ostentatiously scheduled to take place "before Ramadan", thus leaving little doubt as to its intended audience. The notion of "amplification" is only valid if one regards the difference between Trappist monks and members of a heavy metal rock band as simply a matter of volume.
The Administration had decided, tentatively, before terrorism struck, that if Yassir Arafat could impose a ceasefire of any duration then President Bush would hold a low-profile meeting with him on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly meeting. This notion was propounded most enthusiastically by George Tenet, the Director of the CIA first appointed by President Clinton, who was dispatched to the region by Mr Bush during the summer. Mr Powell was at that stage relatively cool about the enterprise, preferring benign neglect to active engagement.
In the aftermath of September 11, however, the Secretary of State seized control of policy. An improbable alliance within Washington emerged between the State Department bureaucracy, which had always wanted the Bush White House to continue in the Middle East where the Clinton Administration had left off, and some crucial figures at the Pentagon who, while normally close to Israel, believed that Egypt and Saudi Arabia needed to be brought onside if they were to be able to convince the President that he should take the military campaign to Baghdad. To the bemusement of Israel, those who favoured both the most limited war and the most assertive war against terrorism had become de facto allies of Mr Arafat against Mr Sharon.
Mr Powell was, and perhaps still might be, poised to recast American foreign policy. He intended to indicate that America favoured the division, or "sharing", of Jerusalem and that he would appoint a new envoy, probably General Antony Zinni, former Commander in Chief of the US Central Command and a figure well known to Arab leaders, as his representative to the region.
There might be some short-term advantages to such a statement. But countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia would have needed more than words from the Secretary of State to appease local populations. The United States would have had to engineer a peace settlement on this basis. And the impact of such a blueprint in Israel would be absolutely explosive. While most Israelis believe that Mr Sharon was intemperate when he asserted that his country would not be "another Czechoslovakia", they were largely in accord with his sentiments. A Powell peace plan in these circumstances would have broken the current Likud-Labour coalition and prompted fresh elections. And the man most likely to emerge as Prime Minister, endorsed on a "not one more inch" manifesto, would be Binyamin Netanyahu - an ironic and unhelpful outcome.
The contraints imposed, and the contradictions inherent, in Mr Powell's pursuit of Peter Pan policy are the real source of the frustration which is building within the Pentagon. It is not the case, as reported in some circles, that Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, is at war with his generals or vice versa. They are all being driven to distraction by a political approach which, as one official put it privately, smacks of a new version of St Augustine: "Give me victory, but not just now."
The military aspect of Operation Enduring Freedom is supposed to be "Gulf War plus", but the diplomatic dimension, at the moment, is "Gulf War minus". Ten years ago the United States announced its objective (the complete expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait) and then assembled an international coalition to achieve it. That process appears to have been reversed a decade later.
The real question that is haunting American commanders now is not whether to expand the war to encompass Saddam Hussein but when the State Department will allow it to be extended to Osama bin Laden.
4) BUYING UP THE EVIDENCE By Duncan Campbell
"The US military does not need the pictures for its own purposes because it already has six imaging satellites in orbit...(that)take photographic images estimated to be six to 10 times better than...Ikonos."
[The Guardian - Wednesday October 17, 2001]: The Pentagon has spent millions of dollars to prevent western media from seeing highly accurate civilian satellite pictures of the effects of bombing in Afghanistan, it was revealed yesterday.
The images, which are taken from Ikonos, an advanced civilian satellite launched in 1999, are better than the spy satellite pictures available to the military during most of the cold war.
The extraordinary detail of the images already taken by the satellite includes a line of terrorist trainees marching between training camps at Jalalabad. At the same resolution, it would be possible to see bodies lying on the ground after last week's bombing attacks.
Under American law, the US defence department has legal power to exercise "shutter control" over civilian satellites launched from the US in order to prevent enemies using the images while America is at war. But no order for shutter control was given, even after the bombing raids began 10 days ago.
The decision to shut down access to satellite images was taken last Thursday, after reports of heavy civilian casualties from the overnight bombing of training camps near Darunta, north-west of Jalalabad. Instead of invoking its legal powers, the Pentagon bought exclusive rights to all Ikonos satellite pictures of Afghanistan off Space Imaging, the company which runs the satellite. The agreement was made retrospectively to the start of the bombing raids.
The US military does not need the pictures for its own purposes because it already has six imaging satellites in orbit, augmented by a seventh launched last weekend. Four of the satellites, called Keyholes, take photographic images estimated to be six to 10 times better than the 1 metre resolution available from Ikonos.
The decision to use commercial rather than legal powers to bar access to satellite images was heavily criticised by US intelligence specialists last night. Since images of the bombed Afghan bases would not have shown the position of US forces or compromised US military security, the ban could have been challenged by news media as being a breach of the First Amendment, which guarantees press freedom.
"If they had imposed shutter control, it is entirely possible that news organisations would have filed a lawsuit against the government arguing prior restraint censorship," said Dr John Pike, of Globalsecurity, a US website which publishes satellite images of military and alleged terrorist facilities around the world.
The only alternative source of accurate satellite images would be the Russian Cosmos system. But Russia has not yet decided to step into the information void created by the Pentagon deal with Space Imaging.