Special Feature - Terror Attack Aftermath

The Lines of Battle
Teetering on the Brink
Rescuing the Economy
The Battlefield
Washington Prepares for Long Campaign
U.S. Faces Islamic Radical
No Easy Battle


The Lines of Battle
Sep 21st 2001
The Economist Global Agenda

President George Bush has delivered what amounts to a declaration of war on states that shelter terrorists, putting Afghanistan into the firing line. As the country’s ruling Taliban continue to refuse to surrender Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attacks on America, tensions are growing in the region


FOR the Taliban, it was a significant shift in their position: urging America’s most wanted man to leave Afghanistan of his own accord was the first sign of any weakening of their backing for Osama bin Laden. But it fell well short of what was demanded. In a powerful and uncompromising speech on September 20th to both houses of Congress, President Bush gave warning that unless Mr bin Laden’s entire terrorist network was immediately dismantled and its members handed over, the Taliban would share in their fate.

“These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion,” said Mr Bush. On September 21st, a senior Taliban official in Pakistan replied that Mr bin Laden would not be handed over because it would be “an insult to Islam”. As America readies and dispatches more troops, ships and aircraft to the region, tensions continue to grow. Thousands of Afghans are trying to flee their country; half the population has left the capital, Kabul. Pakistan, which could be used as a staging post by America for attacks on Afghanistan, poured more troops onto the streets on September 21st to respond to a series of strikes and protests organised by Islamic militants. These radical groups echo the words of the Taliban and threaten to respond to any attack on Afghanistan by declaring a holy war against America. In Karachi and some other places, protests turned violent and at least three people died.

Mr Bush insists that America’s war is not with Islam itself. He wants Muslim countries to co-operate with the United States in its battle against terrorism, which, in the attacks on September 11th, left more than 6,500 people dead or missing. Now, the lines of battle have been firmly drawn. Mr Bush’s message to foreign governments could not be simpler: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Most leaders in the Middle East and Asia, who are used to finding compromises in international stand-offs, prefer to avoid such stark choices. Some analysts worry that an American assault on Afghanistan, or on other countries that have harboured terrorists or have links to them, could destabilise the whole region. Such an attack now seems inevitable. Mr Bush told Americans to expect a long and sustained war, which would be like no other and which would be fought on many fronts. Americans, said Mr Bush, must also prepare for casualties.

Impossible to accept

Afghanistan’s most senior clerics issued a decree on September 20th, calling on their leader and self-styled “Commander of the Faithful”, Mullah Muhammad Omar, to invite Mr bin Laden to leave their country of his own free will. Mullah Omar and Mr bin Laden are close friends and share a fanatical devotion to establishing what they see as the purest form of Islam. If the Taliban were hoping this offer would get them off the hook, they were hopelessly misguided. Even if Mr bin Laden could be shown to have slipped across the border—which some reports claim he has already done—nothing but a complete transformation of their position would satisfy Mr Bush.

Not only must the Taliban deliver Mr bin Laden, but all the leaders of his terrorist network, al-Qaeda, who are hiding in the country. Al-Qaeda’s training camps must be destroyed and opened to inspection by the United States. All foreign nationals being held by the Taliban must also be released. For the Taliban, these demands seem impossible to meet.

Mr Bush offered no other way out. He described the terrorists as “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century”. Their fate, he said, would end “in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies”. As America continued its military build-up, he urged the country, which was teetering on the brink of recession even before the attack, to try to return to normal. But some things will never be the same. As part of heightened security arrangements against future terrorist attacks, Mr Bush appointed the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, who is a former marine, to a cabinet-level position as head of the newly created Office of Homeland Security.

The front line

Pakistan already finds itself on the front line. Its military ruler and president, General Pervez Musharraf, has warned his alarmed population that Pakistan has no choice but to side with America. Defying America could hobble Pakistan, both economically and politically. Its arch-rival, India, was among the first to offer help, including intelligence, to Washington. India has told America the location of terrorist training camps, some 100 of which it claims are within Pakistan. Many politicians in Delhi would like nothing better than for Pakistan to be treated as a terrorist nation, because this could mean that America sides with India in its long struggle with Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Many of Pakistan’s leaders in Islamabad would welcome better relations with America—and the aid it would bring for their crippled economy. But the political risks are huge. Many Pakistanis have become increasingly anti-American since 1990, when Congress first slapped sanctions on the country for pursuing its nuclear programme. This turns to absolute hatred in some of the devout and conservative tribal areas along Pakistan’s long border with Afghanistan. The people living in these regions have ethnic and tribal links with the Taliban. Nevertheless, General Musharraf argues the hardliners are a minority. He has won the backing of the country’s main political parties and some tribal leaders in border areas. In Kashmir, some of the Afghans who have joined what Pakistan calls “freedom-fighters” and India calls “terrorists”, have returned to defend their homeland.

It is possible that the Pakistani government can manage both the street protests and the inevitable backlash from limited strikes on Afghanistan. But a prolonged campaign, and one that might result in indiscriminate casualties, would produce rage. Although he has the backing of his soldiers for now, descent into turmoil could result in the replacement of General Musharraf’s regime with a more extreme one. The jangling of nerves would then become even louder in India, China, Central Asia and the Middle East.

America will find its most willing ally in Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, a rag-tag but tough army of guerrilla fighters who have been the only serious military challenge to the Taliban. The Northern Alliance says it will gladly help America, but it controls only a slim territory, stretching from the north-east corner of Afghanistan down towards Kabul. The Northern Alliance blames Mr bin Laden for organising the assassination this month of their most senior military commander, Ahmad Shah Masoud. This was a huge blow. But other warlords have recently been recruited to the alliance, and Russia, Iran and India have all stepped up their support.

Safety of a sort

As the region becomes the focus of a geopolitical crisis, the lot of ordinary Afghans is likely to get even worse. Before the latest crisis, 3.5m out of a total population of 23m had fled their mine-infested wasteland and were subsisting in squalid refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran. Famine now threatens many of those that remain, as the crisis compounds the effects of the worst drought in 30 years. Aid agencies are warning that, as war looms, a vast humanitarian catastrophe is in the making.

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Teetering on the Brink
Sep 21st 2001

The Economist Global Agenda

With speculation growing that American retaliation for the terrorist attacks might be imminent, stockmarkets around the world have become very nervous, with share prices falling sharply. At the same time, evidence is emerging of the economic difficulties which the country faced before September 11th. How much has the global economic outlook deteriorated since then?

THE losses are mounting. By the end of trading in New York on September 20th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had shed nearly 13% of its value since Wall Street re-opened on September 17th. In early trading on September 21st, many European markets saw share prices fall by around 6% before regaining about half those losses later in the day. This all reflects the increased nervousness inevitable at times of uncertainty, especially when military conflict might be involved.

And you don't have to look any further than Wall Street to get a sense of what is happening to the American economy. Just around the corner from the site of the destroyed World Trade Centre towers, those who work on the New York Stock Exchange get a daily reminder of the recent horrors and their aftermath. Many of them will know people killed, missing, or injured in the terrorist attacks of September 11th. And the nervous volatility seen since the financial centre of New York,and the world, re-opened for business on September 17th reflects the enormous uncertainty about what might now happen to the American economy. It also reflects great anxiety about how bad things might get, both for America and the global economy.

America’s economic leaders are doing their best to steady frayed nerves. Paul O’Neill, the treasury secretary, on September 19th cautioned against quick judgements about the economic impact of the terrorist attacks: We don’t really know how big a shock it is going to be, or how long it will last, he said. And on September 20th, Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, also sought to put the recent events in perspective. Mr Greenspan, testifying on CapitolHill, did not mince his words. Much economic activity ground to a halt last week, he said. But he also stressed that America’s long-term economic prospects have not been significantly diminished by these events.

Mr Greenspan’s comments neatly illustrate the dilemma American policymakers now face. There is growing pressure for the government to take some kind of emergency economic measures in response to the crisis. The Fed cut interest rates on September 17th, a move followed by central banks around the world. But there’s talk, among congressional leaders and elsewhere, of a package to stimulate the economy, perhaps by extra spending, or by extra tax cuts. President Bush already has authority to spend an extra $40 billion over the coming weeks. But as both Mr Greenspan and Mr O’Neill have pointed out, it is much too soon to know how long the immediate effects will last. Mr Greenspan noted that in the days immediately following the attacks, consumer spending dropped sharply, as people remained glued to their television sets, watching for the latest news, and theshopping malls stayed empty. As the shock starts to fade, so consumers will gradually return to the shops; but what nobody yet knows is whether there will be a lasting effect on consumer demand.

The same goes for the travel industry. Airline bookings have plummeted as individuals and firms reassess their travel plans and, indeed, their attitude to travel by air. This has led to an immediate financial crisis for the airline industry, which could not survive for long after such a large drop in its cash revenues. Job lay-offs announced since September 11th already exceed 50,000 (plus another 30,000 from Boeing, the world’s largest aircraft maker). Here, the American government is taking urgent steps to help, by providing about $5 billion in cash aid and assuming the legal liability that the two airlines whose aircraft were used in the attacks might eventually face.

What is on offer is far less than the airlines themselves wanted. But the airline industry, like like the rest of the economy, was in trouble long before the terrorist attacks, and the government has been anxious to avoid bailing out companies for problems unrelated to September 11th. Apart from anything else, that could set an unwelcome precedent.

In deciding on the right steps to take for the economy as a whole, this distinction between before and after is less significant. What matters in this context is the judgment about the economic outlook once short-term effects have worn off. The evidence has been mounting that well before September 11th, the economy was in worse shape than many economists had judged.

The Fed’s own “Beige Book”, which pulls together anecdotal evidence from all the Fed’s twelve regions, makes depressing reading in the latest edition, published on September 19th. It paints a picture of a sluggish or even slowing economy, with largely flat consumer spending even before the terrorist attacks. On the same day, government figures showed exports fell by 2.6% in July, the largest one-month fall in a decade. Industrial production, according to figures published on September 14th, fell for the eleventh consecutive month in August: it has fallen by 4.8% in the past year, and high-tech output is down by 7.2% on a year ago.

What is most worrying those who have previously been optimistic about the outlook are signs that,even before September 11th, consumer sentiment was weakening. Until recently, the American addiction to shopping had played a vital part in keeping the economy afloat in the wake of the sharp contraction in business activity. Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of American GDP. A downturn in consumer activity would therefore greatly increase the risk of recession.

Most economists now seem certain that GDP will turn out to have contracted in the third quarter of the year, and many expect it to contract in the final three months as well. Certainly, the short-term impact of the attacks increases the risk of that happening. If those short-term effects turn out to be more deep-rooted than many now anticipate, the prospect for the American economy would be correspondingly gloomier. Mr Greenspan reckons that the Fed will know pretty quickly how big an impact September 11th has had (though he’s probably talking weeks rather than days). He told his audience on Capitol Hill that it is more important to take the right actions than it is to react too quickly. Such remarks are likely to be interpreted first, as a clear hint that more interest-rate cuts could be in the pipeline, and second, that the Fed chairman does not automatically rule out other measures to stimulate the economy.

History suggests that an economy as strong as America’s can weather such external shocks without too much difficulty. Mr Greenspan noted that the American economy is better equipped to do so than ever before. But he also acknowledged that there are important differences between what happened on September 11th and previous economic disruptions; in particular, the much greater uncertainty it brought.

Long before the terrorist attacks, 2001 was turning into a difficult year for the global economy:Japan is pretty much in recession, after spending ten years in the doldrums; much of East Asia has been suffering from the slump in high-tech orders from America; and even Europe, seen as a bright spot at the beginning of the year, has experienced a sharp slowdown in its growth prospects. Battered as it currently is, America remains the dominant world economy and the most likely engine of future growth, which is why anxiety about its economic response to the recent shocks is so widespread.

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Rescuing the Economy
Sep 18th 2001
The Economist Global Agenda

Share prices fell sharply on Wall Street on September 17th, the first day of trading since the terrorist attacks on September 11th. The slide came in spite of interest-rate cuts in America and Europe. So is a global recession inevitable?

We're back

IT COULD have been worse. That seems to be the verdict of most commentators after watching share prices on the New York stockmarket slide for most of the day on September 17th. The re-opening of Wall Street after the terrorist attacks was of great symbolic significance: it was a signal to the world that New York was fighting back, that America was struggling to return to something like normality. So the sight of both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the hi-tech Nasdaq index falling by 7% was hardly, on the face of it, reassuring. (The much broader Standard & Poor's 500 dropped by 5%.) Yet by the standards, say, of the 1987 stockmarket crash, when the Dow slumped by 22%, these falls were modest.

In fact, America's stockmarkets have done better than most major markets since the attacks on September 11th. No-one knows how the markets will perform over the next few days: the uncertainties always present have been greatly added to by what happened last week. It is already clear, though, that the threat of recession, both in America and around the world, looms even larger than it did on September 10th.

Since the attacks took place, the world's monetary authorities have sought to calm the financial markets, and to reassure investors and traders. On September 17th, America's Federal Reserve cut interest rates by half a percentage-point just before Wall Street re-opened, the eighth rate cut since the beginning of the year. A few hours later, the European Central Bank (ECB), which had decided against a cut on September 13th, followed suit with a similar cut. The Swiss and Canadian central banks also cut, and the Bank of England followed suit (with a quarter-point cut) on September 18th. Also on September 18th, the Bank of Japan cut short its two-day meeting and announced a cut in its overnight interest rate to 0.1% (from 0.25%) and raised its target for pumping funds into the money market.

But getting back to business will be a slow process. Many institutions have been affected by the damage to offices and communications wrought by the collapse of the World Trade Centre and by the large number of human casualties. And investors are only now beginning to reassess corporate prospects in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Video-conferencing and defence shares have been rising, for instance, while those for airlines and insurance companies are declining. Shares in some of the biggest American airlines fell by about 40% on September 17th, reinforcing their pleas for government help with the financial crisis they now face.

Of course, share prices overall had been falling long before September 11th, a fall which had accelerated in the days immediately before the attacks, and it is quite possible they will slide further in the coming days. On September 17th, the Dow became the last major American index to fall by more than 20% from its peak. That meets the traditional definition of a bear market and underlines the extent of the problems the American economy faced even before the events of last week, which have not made it easier to predict how much further share prices will fall.

The enormous short-term uncertainties are reflected in the wider economy. How will American consumers and businesses react to the catastrophic events? Will people resume flying as before? The airlines are assuming a drop in traffic, and have cut their schedules by around 20%. Will consumers—the backbone of the world’s largest economy—decide against making that trip to the mall? Some stores are already reporting a short-term fall-off in business. How will firms cope if retail therapy goes out of fashion over a longer period? Is recession now inevitable? On the face of it, the economic implications are huge: and how America responds will, in turn, have important consequences for the rest of the world.

But it is important to remember three things. First is the extraordinary degree of uncertainty involved in making economic assessments right now. This makes any attempt at forecasting even more difficult than usual. Second is the importance of distinguishing between short-term responses and the longer-term impact. The immediate fallout seems bound to be negative. Many economists think the American economy will contract in the third quarter of the year.

Last, but perhaps most important, as things stand now the economic impact of the terrorist attacks might be relatively small in the long term. Horst Köhler, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said as much in a statement released on September 12th. Other economists have agreed. But the exact impact partly depends on what happens next on the political and military front. In any case, whatever the underlying economic explanation, the terrorist attacks will inevitably be blamed if America, followed by the rest of the world, slides into recession.

None of this, though, makes the global outlook very cheerful. Indeed, what can easily be forgotten in the aftermath of September 11th is just how bad things were already. In spite of the assumption made by some economists (and others) that the American economy had just about bottomed out, a stream of disappointing statistics before September 11th was followed by even gloomier ones published after the attacks, but relating to economic activity before them.

On September 14th, government figures showed the eleventh consecutive monthly fall in industrial production in August—the longest decline since 1960. Industrial production has now fallen by 4.8% in the past year; and high-tech output is down 7.2% on a year ago. For most of this year, the American consumer has kept the economy afloat as business activity and investment continued to slide. But there are fears that that may be changing. On September 13th, the widely respected University of Michigan fortnightly survey of consumer sentiment was released a day early. This related to the period up to September 10th and showed a dramatic weakening in confidence. It put a dampener on better-than-expected retail-sales figures issued on September 14th, but covering August. The data suggest that, as taxpayers started to get their tax-rebate cheques, many of them went out and spent them. As confidence has continued to weaken in September, however, it is possible more people will now put the money in the bank. Figures due to be published on September 25th will offer the first glimpse of what has happened to consumer confidence after the attacks.

So far, America has avoided recession; a prolonged period of consumer weakness could tip the balance. That would be bad news for a world economy whose prospects already look far gloomier than anyone predicted only a year ago. Output in Japan, the world’s second-biggest economy, contracted sharply in the second quarter of the year. Other countries in Asia, including Singapore and Taiwan, are already in recession: the collapse in American demand for their high-tech exports has hit them hard.

And the display of hubris from many European leaders at the beginning of the year has been replaced with mounting concern about the prospects for the euro zone. On September 13th, figures showed that the euro area grew by only 0.1% in the second quarter compared with the first; and only by 1.7% compared with a year ago. Germany’s sluggish performance has been especially surprising and disappointing.

Gloomy indeed, with little prospect of an early improvement; and while their long-term impact may be relatively modest, the terrorist attacks have done nothing to help the confidence of investors, firms and consumers. But it is possible that the policy responses to the events in America could have some beneficial impact on economic activity. The response of the world’s central banks has been swift and the interest-rate cuts made on September 17th and 18th are significant. Given the ECB’s previously much-criticised reluctance to cut interest rates this year, a looser monetary stance in the wake of the terrorist crisis will be welcome.

The euro area still seems determined to stick with its stability and growth pact, derided by many as wrongly imposing tight fiscal policy at a time of economic downturn. But in America, the political row over the disappearing budget surplus has vanished in the wake of the terrorist attacks. President George Bush has said America will respond to the attacks: and the prospect of higher military and other government spending, which might ordinarily alarm fiscal conservatives, will inject additional demand into a weakening economy. On September 17th, Mr Bush said he was also prepared to put together an economic stimulus package if that were needed.

For now, though, all economic analysis is necessarily speculative. No one could have predicted the attacks on New York and Washington—let alone their tragic toll in human lives. No one can yet predict with any certainty their economic consequences.

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Washington Prepares for Long Campaign

2300 GMT, 010918


As Washington tries to build an international coalition against terrorism, the Bush administration is preparing the nation for a long campaign rather than a single retaliatory strike. With Afghanistan the primary initial target, Washington must deal with a problem it has rarely encountered since World War II: attacking a landlocked country.


The Bush administration is searching the globe for coalition support for its war on terrorism. At the same time, it is preparing Americans for a long campaign that may not include a rapid, high-profile, retaliatory strike.

Washington's initial military response to the Sept. 11 attacks will shape U.S. relations not only with Middle Eastern nations but also with the rest of the world.

For this reason the administration must carefully consider its reprisal so as not to undermine the confidence of allies or fuel wider enmity among Arab and Islamic nations. Although strikes are inevitable, they will likely take much more time and preparation than the cruise missile strikes that followed the 1998 bombings of the embassies in Africa.

By labeling Osama bin Laden the key suspect, Washington has also marked Afghanistan, where the Saudi exile has been living, as the likely first target. This presents a problem the U.S. military has rarely encountered since World War II: attacking a landlocked nation. The effectiveness of U.S. carrier battle groups will be severely reduced in any operation against Afghanistan.

In terms of logistics, Washington must find either land bases for a sustained coalition air strike against Afghanistan or provide
in-air refueling for carrier-based planes.

Afghanistan's neighbors, with whom the United States has tenuous relations, limit both choices. Afghanistan is bounded by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north, Iran to the west, China to the east and Pakistan to the south. Any partnership with the northern neighbors will require substantial negotiations with Russia, which retains a strong influence and military presence in Central Asia. Even with permission to fly out of Central Asia, the supply chain into these nations would be long and difficult to maintain.

Iran, which has no love for the Taliban, is even more unlikely to offer basing for U.S. aircraft. China, too, is unlikely to offer basing, and even if it does, significant supply line problems would remain.

Washington's best hope for regional assistance, then, is Pakistan. Pakistan was once a close ally, and its port access is useful for logistical purposes. Pakistan's long border along the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan also offers the closest access to the cities of Kandahar, the Taliban headquarters, and Kabul, the frontline in the battle between the Taliban and the
opposition Northern Alliance.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has offered substantial cooperation to the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11
attacks. But pro-Taliban forces inside Pakistan threaten his hold on power.

These threats come from those who feel he is too secular as well as from ethnic rivalries within Pakistan. Musharraf is a Muhajir, an Urdu-speaking member of an immigrant family from India. Although Urdu-speakers have dominated Pakistan's political and economic elite, the many of the country's indigenous groups -- including the native Pushtun population, which geographically straddles the border with Afghanistan -- view them as usurpers.

Even with Musharraf's promises of cooperation, military planners in Washington must be absolutely sure that he has control of his entire military. The main questions in Washington now are whether Pakistan's offer of assistance is firm and whether the government is stable enough to allow the United States to strike Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Whether the U.S. military is based in Pakistan or not, simply flying over Pakistan on the way to Afghanistan poses a serious security challenge. First, bringing significant firepower to bear on Afghanistan requires Washington to bring in more carriers or - - for a sustained and more effective operation -- to establish land bases. The nearest places for such land bases are in India, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

If the aircraft are launched from carriers, they will require in- air refueling somewhere over Pakistan. This presents a significant security risk: Tanker aircraft would provide a ready target for potential rogue elements inside Pakistan's army or air
force. With the situation in Pakistan still uncertain, it would be hard for a U.S. military commander to confidently fly tankers over Pakistan. The loss of a single tanker to surface-to-air missiles or fighter aircraft would also lead to the loss of mission-bound aircraft that depended on the tanker for fuel.

Similar problems pertain to operations not based on carriers. Because land-based aircraft generally have a longer combat radius, it is possible that flights from Oman, the UAE or Qatar could refuel over the Pakistani coast and still have the range to
strike at Kandahar or other targets in Afghanistan. Operating from land bases in the Gulf or from India, however, would require a long buildup.

It is for this kind of protracted operation rather than a quick retaliation that Washington is preparing. During a briefing Sept. 18, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reiterated the dominant theme in Washington now -- that this will be a new style of war, one that will be fought for a long time. Rumsfeld emphasized that this is "not a matter of a single event" nor a campaign against one or two terrorist leaders.

Washington needed six months to gear up for Operation Desert Storm, and preparations for strikes on Afghanistan or other targets may take as long. Although pressure from within the United States for a retaliatory strike will grow, President George W. Bush currently enjoys high popularity ratings. His administration is much more likely to take the heat now rather than risk a disastrous attack that accomplishes little.

If Washington could fully trust Pakistan's stability, it would likely have begun operations already. But the administration is making every effort to prepare a long-term strategy -- to avoid the appearance abroad and at home of a Clinton-esque strategy of launching an ineffective cruise-missile strike against some tents in Afghanistan as well as to avoid undermining tenuous relations with the Arab and Muslim world.

This strategy may involve more carrier-based aircraft, land-based assets or even long-range strategic bombers from the United States and the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Such strikes will ultimately take place but only after the administration can overcome the logistical concerns posed by Pakistan's delicate political balance

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The Battlefield
Sep 19th 2001
From The Economist Global Agenda

As America prepares its response to last week's terrorist atrocities, fears of an imminent retaliatory attack are mounting in Afghanistan. The ruling Taliban are meeting to decide how to respond to American demands that they surrender Osama bin Laden and sending mixed signals about what they might do. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are trying to flee the country

Safety, of a sort

“WE APPEAL to the US government to exercise complete patience,” said Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, on Wednesday September 19th, according to a Pakistani news agency. “We assure the whole world that neither Osama nor anyone else can use Afghan terriroty against anyone. We want America to gather complete information to find the culprits.” But contradicting this seemingly conciliatory plea, Mullah Omar was also reported to say: “The enemies of this country look on the Islamic system as a thorn in their eye and they seek different excuses to finish it off. Osama bin Laden is one of these.”

Such mixed signals have characterised the Taliban response to the attacks on America from the beginning. Now, more than a week after the terrorist assault on New York and Washington, Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban are convening a conclave of senior clerics to discuss whether or not to surrender Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind. Some reports suggest that shura, as the gathering is known, might result in the declaration of a holy war in response to America’s own pledge of a crusade against countries it says harbour terrorists, including Afghanistan. But others maintain that the Taliban are still contemplating handing over Mr bin Laden, a Saudi dissident who has lived in their country since 1994.

This week a delegation from neighbouring Pakistan visited Afghanistan in an effort to persuade the Taliban to give Mr bin Laden up. The Taliban veered between detailed negotiations about the terms under which they might surrender Mr bin Laden and threats to launch a regional war. The Pakistanis went home empty-handed on September 18th. And yet even after they left, the Taliban seemed reluctant to shut the door entirely on a negotiated solution. “Anyone who is responsible for this act, Osama or not, we will not side with him,” Qudrutulla Jamal, Afghanistan's interior minister, said to a Reuters reporter by telephone from Kabul. “We told them [the Pakistani delegation] to give us proof that he did it, because without that, how can we give him up?”

As the Taliban dither, thousands of refugees are pouring out of Afghanistan for fear of an imminent American attack. Pakistan has tried to seal its long border, but the United Nations estimates that some 4,000 Afghans are still crossing every day. Thousands more, having been turned away, are massing on the Afghan side. Even Taliban officials are said to be fleeing the capital, Kabul, although whether by order or in defiance of one it is impossible to say. The Taliban have not even said whether the shura will come to a decision on September 19th or 20th. Throughout the movement’s seven-year history, their behaviour has been equally capricious, heedless of events around them, by turns defiant and compliant, worldly and outlandish. That is what makes the outcome of America’s current brinkmanship with them so unpredictable.

America greeted the Taliban’s rapid expansion from the southern town of Kandahar in 1994 with cautious optimism. Although the group, a collection of militant Muslim clerics and their acolytes, espoused a rabidly traditionalist form of Islam tinged with Afghan tribal practices, it at least restored some semblance of order to a country divided between dozens of warlords and wracked by over 15 years of fighting. The Taliban co-opted or drove away petty militias, abolished arbitrary taxes and tolls, and stamped out banditry. With the end of the Cold War, America’s interest in Afghanistan had waned anyway; its primary concern was to stem the flow of drugs, weapons and disorder to the rest of the region and the world. The Taliban, as the sole force capable of pacifying the country, seemed to provide the only hope of doing so.

America had good grounds for believing that it might be able to do business with the Taliban. The mullahs were wordly enough to send delegations to Houston and Buenos Aires to court consortiums hoping to build pipelines across their territory. America also had diplomatic influence, in that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, both firm American allies, provided almost all of the Taliban’s arms and funds. Above all, the Taliban seemed to crave international recognition. They repeatedly promised to eradicate opium poppies in their territory if America, among others, would accept them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the Taliban have also given plenty of grounds for suspicion. They are willing to fly in the face of near-universal opprobrium, as when they ordered the destruction of every statue in Afghanistan earlier this year. They interpret Islam in a way that makes more orthodox clerics shudder, including the bizarre notion that the proper punishment for homosexuality is to topple a wall on the offender. In bigger towns, such as Kabul and Herat, they have in effect imprisoned women in their homes—another stricture that most Muslims would reject. Many Afghans, especially those who espouse different forms of Islam, have reported terrible massacres at the hands of the Taliban. All manner of Islamic insurgents, from Central Asia, western China and Kashmir, have found them willing hosts and mentors. And they have never stinted in their welcome for Mr bin Laden, even after America accused him of masterminding the bombing of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Most analysts attribute this unexplained oscillation between moderation and extremism to competing factions among the senior clerics. Last year, pragmatists seemed to have had the ear of Mullah Omar, who is not only the Taliban's leader but also the self-styled “Commander of the Faithful”. He ordered the complete eradication of Afghanistan’s poppy crop, cutting the global production of heroin by three-quarters at a stroke. But this year, perhaps disappointed by the lukewarm and suspicious international response to that step, and angered at the imposition last December of new United Nations sanctions, he has given full rein to hardliners. New regulations required Afghanistan’s handful of Hindus and Sikhs to wear yellow badges marking them out as non-Muslims. The import of neckties was banned as unIslamic. New restrictions were imposed on aid workers, from a ban on women drivers to a demand that they all sign an affidavit endorsing the Taliban’s justice system and accepting its bloodthirsty punishments.

The dispute between moderates and extremists will doubtless flare up again in the coming conclave

The dispute between moderates and extremists will doubtless flare up again in the coming conclave. On the one hand, the Taliban stand to benefit enormously if they co-operate with America, and to pay an enormous price if they do not. Potential carrots include the lifting of sanctions, international recognition, increased aid and even investment (pipelines again), while America’s military arsenal constitutes a terrifying stick. The Taliban even have an excuse to hand Mr bin Laden over, insofar as they have always insisted that they would do so if presented with compelling evidence of his guilt.

On the other hand, the Taliban seem prickliest when they feel they are being pushed around. A UN threat earlier this year to suspend hand-outs of food unless the Taliban retracted some of their restrictive edicts elicited a furious reaction. Mullah Omar and Mr bin Laden are said to be personal friends who occasionally go fishing together. Furthermore, representatives of the Northern Alliance, the only militia still contesting the Taliban’s rule, say Mr bin Laden organised the assassination of their most senior military commander, Ahmad Shah Masoud. If that is true, Mullah Omar is deep in Mr bin Laden’s debt. And Mullah Omar clearly has delusions about his place in the world: earlier this year, he announced that his decision to stifle the heroin trade had caused the economic downturn in America.

An exportable surplus

All this—and the defiant statements currently emanating from Kabul—suggest that Mullah Omar will side with the hardliners, and refuse to surrender Mr bin Laden. Whatever form America’s response then takes, it would be wise to try to exploit the divisions within the Taliban, and Afghan society as a whole. There are signs of growing popular disenchantment with the Taliban regime. The Taliban are mainly Pashto-speakers from the country’s south and east. The ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras of the north and west resent their hegemony. For everyone, the Taliban’s social strictures have become more onerous, while the initial delight at the restoration of law and order is fading. Several protests broke out over the summer when religious zealots disrupted the workings of hospitals, for example, or when Taliban members tried to discipline the crowd at a football match. A series of bombs has exploded outside Taliban offices over the past few years; one destroyed Mullah Omar’s home in Kandahar. The Taliban blame these on the Northern Alliance, but the latter attribute them to power struggles among the clerics.

The Northern Alliance announced on September 18th that it would gladly help America in whatever way it could. It only controls a tiny sliver of territory, stretching from the north-east corner of Afghanistan down towards Kabul. Yet contrary to all predictions, it has managed to hold out against determined Taliban offensives for the past three years. The death of Mr Masoud, Afghanistan’s most redoubtable commander, is a huge blow. But two other well-known warlords were recently recruited to the alliance, including General Rashid Dostum, the man responsible for the Taliban’s most stinging defeat, in a battle over the town of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997.

Russia, Iran and India have all stepped up their support for the alliance of late, as a counter to the Taliban’s backing of insurgents in their territory. The alliance’s bedraggled militia mysteriously acquired several attack helicopters recently, which it used to great effect in a surprise assault on Kabul’s airport on September 12th. And if America prevails on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to cut off the flow of money and weapons, or launches some sort of air strikes, the Taliban may find its own military capacity severely diminished.

Before the latest crisis, 3.5m out of a total population of 23m had fled the country, and were subsisting in squalid refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran

Only one thing is sure amid all this scheming and conjecture: the lot of ordinary Afghans is likely to get even worse. Before the latest crisis, 3.5m out of a total population of 23m had fled the country, and were subsisting in squalid refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran. Famine had displaced another million within Afghanistan. A UN report issued in April described the humanitarian situation: “The life expectancy is less than 43 years, the literacy rate is around 25%, the mortality rate is the highest in the world and the GDP per head is estimated to be less than $700. Only a small minority of Afghans have access to safe water, sanitation, health care, and education. In addition, Afghanistan is one of the most mine-infested countries in the world.” Since then, things have got worse. The current drought—the worst in 30 years—continues unabated. Aid workers worry that many of those staying put are only doing so because they are too weak to flee. The UN is now warning of an immense humanitarian catastrophe. If America launches some kind of attack, the picture seems bound to get even worse.

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U.S. Faces Islamic Radical
2100 GMT, 010916


This week's terrorist attacks demonstrate clearly for the first time the existence of a multi-national, global network of Islamic radicals and their sympathizers. The United States is gearing up for war against an enemy that may span half the globe and is comprised of thousands individuals and different organizations.


The United States has declared war on international terrorism. In his weekly radio address Sept. 15 U.S. President George W. Bush warned Americans to brace themselves for "a conflict without battlefields or beachheads," and called on U.S. military personnel to get ready for battle. The president earlier met with his top security advisors at Camp David in order to hammer out a U.S. military response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Identifying the enemy, however, will be neither simple nor straightforward. A number of officials including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have named Saudi exile Osama bin Laden as the chief suspect. But evidence suggests that while his umbrella organization Al-Qaida was involved at some point, bin Laden himself isn't likely the mastermind behind the attacks. The skill and scope of the operation indicates that more than one base of support was necessary.

The operational resources required to pull off this week's attacks indicate the existence of a much larger threat, a multi-national radical Islamic network with operatives and sympathizers all across the globe. Such a network likely connects a variety of Islamic radical and terrorist groups.

Understanding this is the key to Washington's warfighting strategy. In aiming to dismantle the infrastructure supporting terrorist groups, the United States will now begin focusing efforts on identifying members and supporters of this global network. Bin Laden and Al-Qaida will likely be only the first targets.

As the world's most notorious terrorist leader bin Laden has provided training, logistics and support to a host of Islamic radicals including Algerian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Pakistani, Sudanese, Syrian and Yemeni nationals. His training camps in Afghanistan provide a basis for learning the tools and techniques of terrorism. In a way bin Laden could be thought of as the
president of a university devoted to the education of radical Islamic terrorists.

But taking out bin Laden won't end the threat of more terrorist attacks against the United States, since logic dictates that Al-Qaida could not have been the only organization involved in the Sept. 11 strikes.

Like any business venture, no one group would be able to supply all the resources. Instead, various aspects of the operation would be farmed out to different groups or individuals within the network. Al-Qaida as an umbrella organization is but one group within a network of radical Islamic organizations that stretches from Cairo to Manila, from Kabul to Algiers.

The sheer scope and skill with which the operations were carried out required several levels of planning, organizing, intelligence and operational experience and capabilities.

The masterminds behind this week's operation began forming their attack plan years ago. They then needed to locate funding and likely turned to sympathetic financiers who could arrange for aid from even more sympathetic donors. The planners also set up separate departments with directors to handle counterintelligence, logistics, training, diplomatic covers and passports, finances and recruitment. At the same time, security is maintained by isolating each department from the others so that the organization is not compromised.

Each division required support from a variety of sources, which neither bin Laden nor his network could provide. In fact, to say bin Laden himself masterminded the assault overlooks some important limitations under which he is currently operating.

For one he is trapped in Afghanistan and is limited in what he can do. The Saudi dissident cannot even make phone calls and has had to resort to courier services in order to communicate with his associates.

For years, the United States tracked communications in country and listened in on his phone conversations made over the Immarsat-3 satellite telephone network. Directing an operation like the one that took place Sept. 11 would require flexible management that could adapt to a variety of situations, necessitating quick and reliable means of communication.

Even financing the operation would have required resources beyond bin Laden and Al-Qaida's ability. According to U.S. officials quoted by United Press International, Washington had bin Laden's financial and operational networks almost "completely mapped" out in detail by mid-1997. This suggest that bin Laden's finances have been at most severely limited and at least under constant surveillance. It would have been impossible for his bankers to wire money to operatives in the United States without tipping off U.S. intelligence agencies. Clearly, bin Laden could not have financed this week's operation

Al-Qaida could have easily provided training and perhaps even recruits. But there are several other organizations that could also be tapped for intelligence, logistical assistance, operational planning and financing. For example, the Egyptian group al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya orchestrated the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and has experience operating in the United States. It also has links to Egyptian intelligence and business leaders who travel frequently and could provide information on airline security standards in the United States.

Another example can be seen in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen last October. The group blamed for that attack has been linked to bin Laden, but there is no evidence that it acted directly under his command. That group, like the recent attackers, employed crude tactics and weapons in a sophisticated manner to cause massive damage. It managed to severely damage a U.S. destroyer, not to mention the U.S. sense of dominance, with a rubber inflatable boat.

Indeed, there are hundreds of radical Islamic organizations operating around the world, all individual and distinct from each other, that could have provided support. Although in the past a majority focused on local issues and did not operate beyond their national borders, a new picture is now emerging.

This picture is one of a global network tying all Islamic groups together in a loose coalition. Like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, this network is comprised of organizations and sympathetic individuals from all over the Muslim world, including financiers and aid donors, government officials and diplomats, former and possibly current military officers, intelligence agents, former and current guerrilla and militant groups, information technology specialists and operational commanders and their lieutenants.

It is then quite possible that the group that masterminded the Sept. 11 terror attacks is comprised of a collection of individuals from several different countries. Indeed, the FBI's list of suspects reads like a student roster from the renowned Al-Ahzar University in Cairo. The operatives who carried out the attack came from countries across the Middle East, including possibly Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There was no local issue tying them all together.

The United States thinks it is going to war with bin Laden, Al-Qaida or the unnamed group directly responsible for this week's attacks. But taking down the infrastructure supporting these groups will require the U.S. to identify and dismantle the larger, global network. That, like dismantling the drug trafficking networks in Latin America, West Africa or Europe, will be a
monumental task.

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No Easy Battle
2000 GMT,


In the wake of this week's terrorist attacks in the United States, the U.S. government is trying to decide how it can defeat its new style of enemy. The key to victory is finding the enemy's center of gravity, or what enables it to operate, and destroying it. But what has worked for the U.S. military in the past may not be enough this time around.


The foundation of any successful military operation is defining and attacking the enemy's center of gravity: the capacity that enables it to operate. A war effort that does not successfully define the enemy's center of gravity, or lacks the ability to decisively incapacitate it, is doomed to failure.

The center of gravity can be relatively easy to define, as was the Iraqi command and control system, or relatively difficult to define, as was Vietnam's discovery of America's unwillingness to indefinitely absorb casualties. In either case, identifying the adversary's center of gravity is the key to victory.

In the wake of this week's terrorist attacks in the United States, this question is now being discussed in the highest reaches of the American government. The issue, from a military standpoint, is not one of moral responsibility or legal culpability. Rather, it is what will be required to render the enemy incapable of functioning as an effective force. Put differently, what is the most efficient means of destroying the enemy's will to resist?

This is an extraordinarily difficult process in this case because it is not clear who the enemy is. Two schools of thought are emerging though. One argues that the attackers are essentially agents of some foreign government that enables them to operate. Therefore, by either defeating or dissuading this government from continuing to support the attackers, they will be rendered ineffective and the threat will end.

Such a scenario is extremely attractive for the United States. Posing the conflict as one between nation-states plays to American strength in waging conventional war. A nation-state can be negotiated with, bombed or invaded. If a nation-state is identified as the attackers' center of gravity, then it can by some level of exertion be destroyed. There is now an inherent interest within the U.S. government to define the center of gravity as Iraq or Afghanistan or both. The United States knows how to wage such wars.

The second school of thought argues that the entity we are facing is instead an amorphous, shifting collection of small groups, controlled in a dynamic and unpredictable manner and deliberately without a clear geographical locus. The components of the organization can be in Afghanistan or Boston, in Beirut or Paris. Its fundamental character is that it moves with near invisibility around the globe, forming ad hoc groups with exquisite patience and care for strikes against its enemies.

This is a group, therefore, that has been deliberately constructed not to provide its enemies with a center of gravity. Its diffusion is designed to make it difficult to kill with any certainty. The founders of this group studied the history of underground movements and determined that their greatest weakness is what was thought to be their strength: tight control from the center.

That central control, the key to the Leninist model, provided decisive guidance but presented enemies with a focal point that, if smashed, rendered the organization helpless. This model of underground movement accepts inefficiency -- there are long pauses between actions -- in return for both security, as penetration is difficult, and survivability, as it does not provide its enemies with a definable point against which to strike.

This model is much less attractive to American military planners because it does not play to American capabilities. It is impervious to the type of warfare the United States prefers, which is what one might call wholesale warfare. It instead demands a retail sort of warfare, in which the fighting level comprises very small unit operations, the geographic scale is potentially global and the time frame is extensive and indeterminate. It is a conflict that does lend itself to intelligence technology, but it ultimately turns on patience, subtlety and secrecy, none of which are America's strong suits.

It is therefore completely understandable that the United States is trying to redefine the conflict in terms of nation-states, and there is also substantial precedent for it as well. The precursor terrorist movements of the 1970s and 1980s were far from self-contained entities. All received support in various ways from Soviet and Eastern European intelligence services, as well as from North Korea, Libya, Syria and others. From training to false passports, they were highly dependent on nation-states for their operation.

It is therefore reasonable to assume the case is the same with these new attackers. It would follow that if their source of operational support were destroyed, they would cease to function. A bombing campaign or invasion would then solve the problem. The issue is to determine which country is supplying the support and act.

There is no doubt the entity that attacked the United States got support from state intelligence services. Some of that support might well have been officially sanctioned while some might have been provided by a political faction or sympathetic individuals. But although for the attackers state support is necessary and desirable, it is not clear that destroying involved states would disable the perpetrators.

One of the principles of the attackers appears to be redundancy, not in the sense of backup systems, but in the sense that each group contains all support systems. In the same sense, it appears possible that they have constructed relationships in such a way that although they depend on state backing, they are not dependent on the support of any particular state.

An interesting development arising in the aftermath is the multitude of states accused of providing support to the attackers: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Algeria and Syria, among others, have all been suggested. All of them could have been involved in some way or another, with the result being dozens of nations providing intentional or unintentional support. The attackers even appear to have drawn support from the United States itself, as some of the suspected hijackers reportedly received flight training from U.S. schools.

The attackers have organized themselves to be parasitic. They are able to attach themselves to virtually any country that has a large enough Arab or Islamic community for them to disappear into or at least go unnoticed within. Drawing on funds acquired from one or many sources, they are able to extract resources wherever they are and continue operating.

If such is the case, then even if Iraq or Afghanistan gave assistance, they are still not necessarily the attackers' center of gravity. Destroying the government or military might of these countries may be morally just or even required, but it will not render the enemy incapable of continuing operations against the United States.

It is therefore not clear that a conventional war with countries that deliberately aided the culprits will achieve military victory. The ability of the attackers to draw sustenance from a wide array of willing and unwilling hosts may render them impervious to the defeat of a supporting country.

The military must systematically attack an organization that tries very hard not to have a systematic structure that can be attacked. In order for this war to succeed, the key capability will not be primarily military force but highly refined, real-time intelligence about the behavior of a small number of individuals. But as the events of the last few days have shown, this is not a strength of the American intelligence community.

And that is the ultimate dilemma for policymakers. If the kind of war we can wage well won't do the job, and we lack the confidence in our expertise to wage the kind of war we need to conduct, then what is to be done? The easy answer -- to fight the battle we fight best -- may not be the right answer, or it may be only part of the solution.

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