Special Feature - Terror Attack Aftermath

The War Plan

War Plan 1 : U.S. Must Create Theaters of Operations
War Plan Part 2: The Afghan Theater of Operations
War Plan Part 3: North American Theater of Operations
War Plan Part 4: The Intercontinental Theater of Operations
War Plan Part 5: Follow-On Theaters of Operation


War Plan Part 5:
Follow-On Theaters of Operation
2120 GMT, 010928


Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network wants to force the United States into launching simultaneous attacks on multiple Islamic countries. Such a reaction would diffuse U.S. forces and alienate the Islamic world. Washington has refused the gambit for now, but al-Qa'ida will likely try to create an Islamic threat in countries such as Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan.


Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has been in the process of narrowing down the scope of its response. There was a substantial battle within the Bush administration, as well as between Washington and some of its allies, over who would be held responsible for the attack and how they would be dealt with.

There were powerful forces that wanted to place Iraq in the same class as Afghanistan as a purposeful facilitator and even planner of the attack. Other less powerful factions put forward countries including Libya, Syria, Sudan and Pakistan.

There were good and bad arguments to be made for the responsibility of each. The Bush administration does not appear to have spent much time trying to sort out culpability at this stage. Instead, the guiding principle in designing a response strategy appears to be about political and military necessity:

1. An effective, as opposed to symbolic, offensive requires substantial time to mount. Desert Storm took six months for deployment and absorbed a substantial proportion of U.S. military capability. The mounting of combined, offensive, multiple and simultaneous air, land and sea operations is at least too dangerous and quite possibly impossible.

2. Building a cohesive coalition for operations against Afghanistan, and for an intercontinental covert war, would probably strain the limits of Washington's expected allies to participate in a widespread offensive against multiple Islamic countries. Nations indispensable to the coalition would opt out of a multi-theater conventional war.

3. Al-Qa'ida has posed this anti-terror campaign as a war between Islam and the rest of the world. Its fundamental goal has been to weld the Islamic world together into a single, cohesive entity. Simultaneous attacks against multiple, predominantly Muslim states would help create precisely the conditions that Osama bin Laden wants: a sense in the Islamic world that a state of war exists between it and the United States.

The United States therefore is devising a minimalist strategy, designed to protect North America from further attacks, disrupt and destroy al-Qa'ida globally and destroy the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Washington wants to do all this without exposing U.S. forces to excessive casualties or over-committing conventional forces in a way that might imbalance U.S. global strategy and leave the United States vulnerable in other regions, including the Middle East.

This is not to say that the United States intends to disregard Iraq. Washington continues to see Baghdad as a primary adversary, and there remains some evidence that the Iraqis have worked with al-Qa'ida. There may well be other nations that the United States intends to target.

However, the Bush administration appears to have made a fundamental strategic decision to deal with these other targets sequentially rather than simultaneously. Having had three theaters of operations forced on it by circumstance, the United States intends to create follow-on theaters of operation at the time and in the sequence that it chooses.

There is an obvious exception to this strategy. The intercontinental theater is inherently unpredictable, and all nations fall within its scope. If in the course of these operations, it becomes possible to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, or some of the other suspect regimes, the United States is likely to seize the opportunity. But apart from that scenario, the United States appears to be treating even Iraq as part of a follow-on theater of operations.

Al-Qa'ida's Strategy: Diffusing American Power

Obviously, al-Qa'ida expects heavy blows to fall on it and its Taliban allies. It intends to press the attack on the United States if possible and to survive the intercontinental and Afghan campaigns. The key to al-Qa'ida's survival is the operational and strategic diffusion of U.S. power: overwhelming the United States with too many real and illusory strategic challenges in other theaters.

On an operational level, al-Qa'ida is providing what appears to be a target-rich environment both within North American and intercontinentally. Endless, quite credible threats are being generated, a huge number of potential suspects are being identified and a tremendously complex set of linkages are being identified between al-Qa'ida and other groups and governments.

Some are real, but many threats, suspects and relationships are self-generated. The psychological atmosphere created by al-Qa'ida on Sept. 11 created a hypersensitivity to any and all possibilities.

The actual attack was so absurdly extraordinary that no reasonable person can any longer discount any threat. At the same time, it is reasonable to assume the attacking task force had as one of its missions planting false and confusing leads and the surviving ground support unit had a similar terminal mission.

This combination of hypersensitivity and deliberate misinformation has inevitably diffused American power in all theaters, but particularly in the United States and intercontinentally. The goal of al-Qa'ida now is to play matador to the American bull, skillfully baffling the United States with a red cape of confusion and misinformation until the bull, exhausted, is ripe for another strike.

This desire to create operational diffusion is mirrored strategically. More than anything, al-Qa'ida wanted to see simultaneous attacks on multiple Islamic countries. That would achieve its two key strategic goals.

First, exhaust the United States strategically as well as operationally, globally as well as locally, by forcing it to commit itself beyond its military abilities. Second, demonstrate to the Islamic world that the United States is indiscriminately hostile to Islam. This, coupled with growing American military exhaustion, would open the door to what al-Qa'ida wants most -- dealing U.S. power a decisive defeat in the Islamic world.

However, strategically the United States has declined the gambit. Operationally it is quite likely that as the war matures, U.S. security and intelligence will gain confidence and expertise in discriminating between genuine threats and facts and self-generated or planted misinformation. The United States has refused to diffuse its power, choosing instead a sequential strategy. In effect, the United States has seized control of at least the strategic tempo of operations.

Al-Qa'ida clearly cannot permit this. Its strategy must be to disrupt the coalition at all levels and particularly within the Islamic world, where it must either create pressure on governments to change course or generate massive instability. From al-Qa'ida's standpoint, doing this will ideally not only change the course of Islamic governments but also create circumstances in which the United States has no choice but to intervene, preferably militarily.

The grand strategy of al-Qa'ida relies on the suspicion of the United States endemic among the Islamic masses, coupled with their sense that existing governments have failed not only religiously and morally but economically and socially as well. This tension between the masses and the elite and between religion and secularism is present throughout the Islamic world as it is in other parts of the world. But in the Islamic world today, there is a power to that equation that cannot be underestimated.

It would obviously be desirable from al-Qa'ida viewpoint if it could undermine any government and substitute an Islamic state. But there are three nations in particular that would pose a fundamental strategic challenge to the United States:

Pakistan: Pakistan is essential to the U.S. strategy against Afghanistan, and the fall of the Musharraf government -- particularly after U.S. forces were deployed throughout the country -- would force an intervention and endanger U.S. forces. Moreover, the victory of pro-bin Laden forces in Pakistan would place Pakistan's nuclear weapons in al-Qa'ida's hands. The United States could not permit this. Therefore, it would have to go to war in Pakistan, a war that would at least temporarily relieve pressure on the Taliban.

Indonesia: Indonesia cannot be ignored by the United States. Since 1997, the economic, social and political situation in Indonesia has been deteriorating rapidly. The precise power of fundamentalism within the overwhelmingly Muslim country is difficult to estimate. Nevertheless, such fundamentalism exists, along with massive discontent with current conditions. Indonesia is also fundamentally strategically important to the United States. Anything that could threaten free passage through the Straits of Malacca and Lombok is something that would have to be taken seriously. It would be an outstanding achievement for al-Qa'ida if it could impose a fundamentalist government in Jakarta. But even failing that, creating a level of chaos in strategic areas of Indonesia, with any threat to maritime navigation, would compel the United States to divert either intelligence or military resources.

Egypt: This is the center of gravity of the Arab world, in terms of population and economy. It is also the foundation of U.S. strategy in that world, and one of the sources of strength for bin Laden. Its Muslim Brotherhood, suppressed by President Hosni Mubarak following the massacres at Luxor, remains a potentially powerful force beneath the surface. Should an Islamic government emerge in Egypt, Israel would be forced to pre-empt militarily, retaking the Sinai. The United States would be caught in the same position it was in with the former Shah of Iran, supporting a toppling government that it could neither abandon nor save. An Islamic Egypt would change the entire architecture of the Arab and Islamic world.

There are other targets of opportunity. Algeria and the Philippines both have Islamic movements that could be exploited. But Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt represent targets that not only would be of value in themselves but also would entangle the United States and force it to diffuse its power.

There are a number of indications in all three countries that attempts are being made to stir the Islamic masses. It is not clear whether al-Qa'ida is involved, but it is also not necessary that al-Qa'ida take a direct hand in order to benefit. It's expected that al-Qa'ida has elements involved in all of these movements.

During recent months, al-Qa'ida operatives have appeared in many countries, the United States included. It's likely they have been forming liaisons with indigenous Islamic political leaders who, if supplied with sufficient funds, might be in a position to destabilize or even overthrow regimes.


The United States is thinking in terms of a follow-on strategy in which it controls the tempo and sequence of operations. al-Qa'ida is hoping to impose a tempo of operations that, while not so much in its control, is still out of the control of the United States. It wants, above all else, to be able to force the United States to wage war in multiple Islamic states simultaneously. This would give bin Laden the political victory he wants in the Islamic world. It could also lead to an American defeat.

The United States shrewdly has declined al-Qa'ida's opening strategy. It has refused to diffuse its forces in multiple large-scale military operations. This decision represents a serious defeat for bin Laden, who STRATFOR believes was counting on an American overreaction. In order to place his scenario back on track, he must create situations in which the United States cannot decline engagement, gambits the United States can neither refuse nor win.

If bin Laden can create, or have created for him, an Islamic threat of substantial proportions in either Pakistan, Indonesia or Egypt -- and more than one would be the ideal -- the United States would be forced to abandon its sequenced generation of theaters of operation and capitulate to simultaneous, poorly planned operations.

The alternative would be to abandon fundamental strategic interests, which would serve bin Laden equally well. Forcing an American retreat would create the atmosphere he wants within the Islamic world, an atmosphere in which American power appears broken and his brand of Islam triumphant.

Thus, there continue to be substantial dangers to the United States. In asymmetric warfare, it sometimes appears that the more powerful entity is in control of the situation at precisely the moment the situation is gyrating out of control. This is certainly what bin Laden wants to have happen. It is not clear that it will happen nor that he can make it happen. But it is clear that a good deal of the action will play itself out in places other than the three theaters of operation we have described and at a time not of America's choosing.

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War Plan Part 4:
The Intercontinental Theater of Operations
2330 GMT, 010927


Given the intercontinental nature of the threat of terrorism, standard coalition warfare will not win the battle. A coalition will limit the ability of the United States to operate covertly on foreign soil, but Washington cannot simply go it alone. A two-tiered strategy is required. On one level, the coalition will have its uses and will provide cover. But on another level, the United States must control its own intelligence war.


The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not the first action of al-Qa'ida against the United States. The group has been linked to previous attacks in Yemen, Tanzania and Kenya, and there is also evidence of contingency plans for attacks in other parts of the world.

It is therefore obvious that al-Qa'ida operates on an intercontinental basis. It must move personnel, materiel and most important, money, between continents. It must pass information intercontinentally. It must work with indigenous elements that can be located anywhere. Thus, even if al-Qa'ida were crushed in Afghanistan and all of its forces were liquidated in North America, the group would remain a threat. Its ability to regenerate command and control systems and continue operations might go on unabated.

Although the United States has renewed its focus on homeland defense following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, true security will require the United States to implement a continental defense system with Canada and Mexico. In the meantime, Washington must face the challenge of countering what may be a more rapid tempo of terrorist operations.

Al-Qa'ida's Global Structure

There is every reason to believe that al-Qa'ida's structure was created with this in mind. Osama bin Laden undoubtedly studied the failures of Communist organizations in the 1970s -- such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy and the Red Army in Japan -- along with the failures of various Palestinian groups. He understood some key weaknesses in their processes and organization:

The European groups in particular developed a national locus. They cooperated with other groups but remained confined to small theaters of operation, making them predictable and vulnerable.

The groups tended to operate under a centralized control system, with a layered cell system providing security. This meant that the cells were linked. More important, it meant taking out a layer of cells at the top or near the top could disable these organizations.

Most of these groups moved into a dependency relationship with state intelligence services. Because of this relationship, they were constrained in their operations. It also meant that penetration of the state intelligence organization could lead to their own liquidation.

In STRATFOR'S view, bin Laden conducted what was in effect a "lessons learned" process and created an entity -- a better term than "organization" -- that was fundamentally different.

Al-Qa'ida was created to be inherently trans-national. It does not have a direct national center of gravity. Even the bases in Afghanistan have redundancy elsewhere. Al-Qa'ida's operatives are trained to diffuse on a global basis.
Bin Laden has created what appears to be a non-hierarchical cell system. To be more precise, his organization is "flat," consisting of self-contained but geographically diffused task forces that come together geographically for operations -- but which, if captured, can neither compromise other task forces nor disrupt the command and control structure. Each group appears to have its own command and control structure that maintains intermittent contact with central command and is able to operate for extended periods without contact.

Bin Laden has tried to avoid dependency on state intelligence services in general, and he appears to have been extraordinarily careful not to become the captive of any one such service. In particular, he is not financially dependent on any one source although he might accept support from multiple sources. He has also maintained liaisons with other like-minded groups on a global basis without integrating them into his core operating system. Therefore, there can be extensive evidence that bin Laden worked with any number of intelligence services and organizations without demonstrating that he was a creature of those services.

In short, bin Laden has tried to create an organization that defies all of the common sense and learned lessons of Western intelligence services. He apparently has tried to diffuse every aspect of his organization, from command and control to geography. Ironically, bin Laden appears to have absorbed contemporary managerial theory about empowering employees, being nimble, being global and above all, being a learning organization.

This renders defeating bin Laden extraordinarily difficult:

He operates on an unpredictable global basis.
He keeps relatively few agents for a global operation, making them easy to camouflage.
He allows his operatives to cooperate with any useful entity, from intelligence services to insurgent groups, without ever creating a dependency.
He has a highly diffused, self-contained support system built around money previously deployed around the globe -- in many cases turned into cash months or years before -- and which is able to secure resources in host and target countries.
Success against one element will not destroy or destabilize other elements.
Most important, bin Laden appears to trust his forces -- or at least be willing to accept betrayal or incompetence as the price of a secure global operation. It is this diffusion that creates the challenge.

Mounting an Intercontinental Counterattack: The Blind Man and the Elephant

Given the operational structure of al-Qa'ida, a great many national intelligence and security organizations have important information about the group. It is almost certain that no single organization knows everything of substantial importance. It is always difficult to know when there is more to learn. Therefore, each intelligence organization may genuinely believe it knows everything there is to know because it feels it has gathered all the information within its area of interest and operations, and because that information -- as designed by al-Qa'ida -- does not appear to lead elsewhere.

For example, the Israelis, who carefully monitor operations in their area, have noted very real contacts between al-Qa'ida and Iraqi intelligence, anti-Israeli groups in Lebanon and among the Palestinians. Similarly, Russian intelligence has evidence of al-Qa'ida's presence in Chechnya and other Central Asian republics. In each case, there is a tendency to see that particular presence or relationship as either the whole or the definitive part of al-Qa'ida. Like the legend of the blind man and the elephant, each intelligence agency sees the part that it touches and imagines that to be the whole.

There is also a political interest involved here. Al-Qa'ida affects and threatens a large number of countries, each of which wants that particular manifestation broken. By representing a particular piece of al-Qa'ida as the center of gravity of the organization, they hope to induce the United States to structure its strategy in such a way that they receive maximum benefit. The Israelis would like the main thrust of the counter-attack to be against Palestinian movements. The Russians would like to see the main thrust directed against anti-Russian movements, and so on.

Thus a dilemma is embedded in the American intercontinental strategy. The war that the United States must prosecute is essentially an intelligence war, designed to locate and destroy al-Qa'ida in a number of countries. In order to do this, the United States must create a coalition of intelligence and security organizations to provide the United States with information, operational forces on the ground ready to act on the intelligence and the right for U.S. covert forces to take fairly extreme actions on their soil.

The U.S. intelligence community must resist both political and conceptual pressures. In some sense, the political pressures are easiest to resist because they are fairly easy to understand. The conceptual pressures will be harder to resist because most will be based on very real evidence of al-Qa'ida collaboration with this country or that organization. The analytic piece -- in which the host country makes the case for this being the center of gravity that must be attacked and destroyed -- will be harder to resist. This is particularly true because there is now a terrific crisis of confidence within U.S. intelligence. An intelligence organization that has failed massively and publicly tends to submit to allied organizations that have not failed -- or to be pressured into submission.

These are only some of the dangers that the sort of intelligence coalition Washington seeks to build would face. Even more explosive are the limits of the intelligence war on non-U.S. soil and who controls that war. In the North American theater, operations tend to be less of a military nature and more of a police matter. That means that, ultimately, criminal law defines operations. Unless al-Qa'ida's attacks continue and intensify, it is hard to imagine a situation in which a state of emergency is declared that effectively suspends the criminal code.

In a police action, particularly in the United States, the first requirement is not the apprehension of the criminal, but rather the protection of the rights of citizens. The governing principle is that it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted. In warfare, the reverse is the case. In destroying enemy forces, it is accepted and expected that innocent bystanders also will die. The notion of guilt or innocence is not really relevant to warfare.

Within the United States, the first principle will continue to pertain. The rules of U.S. operations overseas will be much more complex. In the intercontinental intelligence war, proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt simply will not surface. There will be no judges and juries. Intelligence operatives will have to make decisions -- sometimes in split seconds -- concerning who will live and who will die.

In discussions about removing limits on state-sponsored assassinations, American thinking has focused on countries like Afghanistan or Iraq. In these countries, intelligence operations are a subset of military operations, and the same rules ultimately apply. The situation is fundamentally different in Germany or Japan. The expectation there is that those theaters will operate by the same rules as North America: local forces will have control and the legal system will continue to govern.

The Intelligence War

The opportunities for rifts within the emerging coalition are enormous, particularly as the memory of Sept. 11 fades a bit over time and if al-Qa'ida refrains from further actions. Thus, the United States eventually must make a fundamental decision, similar to the decision Israel faced in the 1970s. If it accepts the inevitable strictures and political manipulation of allies, the ability to deal decisively with al-Qa'ida will decline dramatically.

If it is to have a chance of success, the United States must be able to act decisively and quickly, regardless of political considerations -- and also, by definition, operate in a sphere not only beneath proof beyond a reasonable doubt but also in which innocent people will certainly become casualties.

Israel consciously decided that destroying certain groups like Black September was necessary, even if it meant turning Europe into an intelligence battleground and even if, on occasion, inevitable mistakes led to civilian casualties. This is a critical choice the United States faces. It is a choice that cuts against the grain of the coalition warfare strategy Washington is following. In a sense, it is almost unthinkable that U.S. agents would begin killing French citizens on French soil. But given the flexibility and speed that al-Qa'ida has shown, and given the limits that rules of evidence place on intelligence operations, it is difficult to imagine another strategy.

This is reflected in the pursuit of money as well as suspects. Clearly al-Qa'ida has developed a system intended to make it difficult to track its money movements and impossible to seize all of its assets in one fell swoop. Diffusion and redundancy have been applied here as well. International banking authorities will cooperate against obvious targets. But we suspect that the processes al-Qa'ida uses to move money make the target set far from obvious. Deep access to private banking information is clearly required.

Some countries might be prepared to provide it. Other countries, understanding that this level of information would give U.S. intelligence tremendously important commercial information unrelated to al-Qa'ida, will be quite hesitant to provide unfiltered information. And information that is filtered by a nation-state can obviously be tainted in many ways.

There is also the question of what to do with secret bank accounts and cover corporations that represent the primary source of income for some countries. There are more than a few of these. The Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man are obvious locations, but countries like Belize also come into play. In breaching the wall of confidentiality, two things will happen. These countries will lose a source of income and will therefore resist. Depositors and incorporators in these countries, many of them wealthy and powerful people around the world, will not be happy to have their screens breached; they will resist and do so effectively.

The larger the coalition becomes in the intercontinental theater, the more constraints will be placed on U.S. intelligence operations and the lower the probability of success will be. On the other hand, given other U.S. interests, it is difficult to envision a war in which the United States simply turns the territory of other allies -- even NATO allies -- into battlefields, or single-handedly overturns the delicate politics behind the balance between public banking and client security. The fact is that the United States cannot afford a wholesale onslaught against all targets as they present themselves. Nor can the United States create a coalition that will permit such an onslaught.

What is possible is cooperation with allies on one level while a very selective and very covert war is carried out, with full deniability, on another level. There cannot be indiscriminate violence. There can be discriminating and intermittent violence. The problem is that al-Qa'ida has deliberately tried to lower the value of every piece of its organization so that the loss of any single one will not be fatal. But al-Qa'ida does not consist of supermen. Members must communicate and move around, and certainly some operatives are more trusted, have more knowledge and are more important than others.

The task is to identify those operatives and either capture them -- questioning them rigorously, as the saying goes -- or kill them. This is a global operation, and it cannot be shared with a coalition. Information can flow only one way: from allies to U.S. intelligence operations. On another level, the coalition can function -- harassing al-Qa'ida, capturing and trying lesser members, tying up money and so on.

In other words, a two-tiered war is required. The public war is a law enforcement challenge, much like what will happen in North America. A very secret war, perhaps never confirmed, that limits itself to extremely high-value targets and makes as few mistakes as humanly possible also must be waged. The coaliton will be able to tolerate a small number of such operations, widely scattered in time and space, of which all sides deny knowledge. It cannot tolerate wholesale warfare.

For this form of warfare to be effective, the "sensor to shooter" cycle must be dramatically compressed. Targets will have to be rapidly evaluated, information transmitted to the field, the operation planned and carried out -- all with suitable margins of safety relative to secrecy, deniability, collateral damage and above all, significance.

This is the challenge the U.S. intelligence community faces right now. It comes in the midst of a terrible crisis of confidence within that community. One is reminded of the U.S. Navy's mindset after Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, it was the Navy as an institution that had to be relied on to carry out the war in the central Pacific, and it is the CIA, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and the rest that will have to carry out this war.

The Analysts' War

Whatever the previous failings of U.S. intelligence, it remains the only global intelligence system capable of waging the intercontinental war. Most important, it is the only intelligence service whose interests coincide with the United States. It is the only horse we have to bet on.

It is not clear that personnel was the problem in the intelligence community leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. Nor is it clear to us that the problem was the lack of human intelligence. Certainly there may be personnel problems, and there may be a lack of human intelligence. But there is a deeper problem.

The intelligence community is obsessed with collecting information. The largest entity in terms of budget, the NSA, is dedicated entirely to collections. Collections are fine, but their value is limited severely if what is collected is not read and understood. What is the value of collecting every phone call in Afghanistan if there is no one to listen to those calls -- or even those calls that a computer designates as critical because of some variable -- and there is no one to put them together with other bits of information?

The overwhelming focus of the U.S. intelligence community is collection and sourcing. Analysis accounts for a small fraction of the intelligence budget. In the sensor to shooter cycle, the key element will be the interface between sensor and shooter -- and that will be the intelligence analyst. He must operate with extreme speed, substantial stores of knowledge and vast leaps of intuition, as well as comprehensive databases. He also must have the ability to task both the sensors and the shooters.

Using the analyst as the operational pivot goes against the entire culture of the intelligence community, where analysis and operations are kept carefully apart. In a global intelligence war -- in which, for instance, information from the Philippines must be linked to information from Chase Bank in Manhattan, in time to find and shoot someone in Lima -- restructuring the intelligence community, streamlining it to fight this war and integrating all the components into a seamless system will be critical.


Ultimately, the hope for an effective intelligence coalition is chimerical. To the extent that there will be one, the coalition will limit the ability of the United States to operate. Partners will skew data and will naturally limit operations on their soil. On the other hand, simply going it alone is impossible. The United States cannot go to war on the soil of allies -- at least not a wholesale war.

A two-tiered strategy is required. On one level, the coalition will have its uses and will provide cover. However, responsibility for the intelligence war ultimately cannot be shared. It is an American mission and an American duty. It also places operational imperatives on the United States that make it essential to have efficiencies that coalition warfare does not permit.

The United States must unravel al-Qa'ida's network without having the main effort sapped by attacks on peripheral relationships. There will be time enough for that later. Rather, the task of U.S. intelligence is to look for bin Laden's necessary vulnerabilities -- people, money, buildings. When those are found to be of sufficient importance, they must be destroyed using secret U.S. forces deployed around the world, frequently without the knowledge or permission of the host country. And if these forces are captured, Washington, like Israel does, will deny everything. If they are killed, they will be forgotten, except for a star on a wall in Langley, Va.

It goes without saying that the U.S. intelligence community needs reform. Some will say that can't be done in wartime. In fact, most military and intelligence reforms take place exactly at that time because that is when business as usual is most dangerous.

Turning the intelligence community from a collector of the arcane into a war-fighting instrument is the key. That, along with cunning and ruthlessness, may defeat al-Qa'ida. It will be long and unpleasant, and there will be counterattacks. There are follow-on theaters of operations to be addressed.

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War Plan Part 3:
North American Theater of Operations
2355 GMT, 010926


Although the United States has renewed its focus on homeland defense following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, true security will require the United States to implement a continental defense system with Canada and Mexico. In the meantime, Washington must face the challenge of countering what may be a more rapid tempo of terrorist operations.


The Sept. 11 attacks on the United States effectively created a North American theater of operations. There are three goals in this theater: the identification and capture or liquidation of the remaining members of the attacking group; the determination of whether other attack groups are currently present within North America; and the prevention of penetration of North America by other groups.

A North American theater of operations is a more useful concept than focusing only on the United States. The United States has vast, virtually unprotected borders with Canada and a long, ineffectively protected border with Mexico. Access to either Canada or Mexico creates innumerable opportunities to penetrate the United States.
Part 2: The Afghan Theater of Operations

Though a war on terrorism is fraught with peril for U.S. forces, the best plan appears to be combining small-scale, highly mobile special operations forces with limited carrier-based air strikes. Such a strategy could be quite effective if the war aim is carefully defined. The United States must first concentrate on toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, rendering the position of Osama bin Laden untenable in that country.

Any attempt to create an effective defensive perimeter along these two frontiers would, apart from issues of cost and economic efficiency, take an extremely long time to put into effect and would divert substantial manpower from other missions. Therefore, a perimeter defense of the United States is untenable.

In a sense this was already recognized during the 1950s, when the United States established its air defense system. It was understood that a defensive perimeter that began at the Canadian frontier would be entirely ineffective. Therefore, the United States induced Canada to join in the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), which move the air defense perimeter farther north to include Canada, essentially creating a continental perimeter.

NORAD is conceptually a model for the current situation. The significant entry points into North America are at airports where international flights are permitted to land. Those airports, along with some maritime facilities, are North America's interface with the world.

There are a finite number of such facilities, and it would be possible to reduce the number if need be. These airports are the control points through which attackers pass. They are the primary security screening point, and once past them attack teams can rapidly disappear into the general population and move into the United States almost at will.

If Canada and Mexico are unwilling to integrate their international arrival security systems with that of the United States, the situation rapidly becomes unmanageable. True frontier security is impossible in the United States in any meaningful time frame. Any airport that accepts international flights but is not part of an integrated screening process immediately obviates the ability of the United States to effectively screen attackers prior to entry.

Creating a notional North American theater of operations -- instead of focusing on a definition of homeland defense that is concerned mainly with the United States -- therefore removes any possibility of a perimeter defense. It is then necessary to think and operate continentally rather than nationally.

With the concept of NORAD as a model, a continental defensive system against Al-Qa'ida and other groups needs to be implemented. Obviously, this interacts with other issues dividing the United States and its neighbors. Canada is deeply concerned about protecting its sovereignty, while Mexico has fundamental issues concerning migration with the United States.

These are serious challenges in transforming the notion of continental defense into an operational entity. It may even become impossible to implement a full system because of these issues. Implementing such a system, however, will become the first test of the coalition the United States is seeking to construct. Inducing Canada and Mexico to create a continental screening system for entrants is the foundation of any workable system of homeland defense. It is unclear that such a model would be sustainable for an extended period of time without a substantial shift in Canada's and Mexico's political culture. Nevertheless, it is the essential prerequisite for American homeland defense.

Attacking North America

The first and most obvious question is whether Al-Qa'ida intends to launch further attacks against the United States and, if so, when these attacks might occur and what their targets might be. This is a question that involves not only intentions but capabilities, and also creates an interesting reversal. In warfare, capabilities are normally far clearer than are intentions. In this case, the reverse is true. Al-Qa'ida's intentions are fairly clear. Much less clear are their capabilities.

The most striking fact to consider is that the Sept. 11 attack involved 19 people who were prepared to go to their certain death. That is a large number of people demonstrating a willingness that is normally exceedingly rare. The operation was obviously risky. If defeated it could lead to the loss of all 19 to no effect. One would expect Al-Qa'ida to hedge its bets to some degree. Certainly, we would think that they would hold some reserves in place for alternative or follow-on operations.

If that assumption is true, then it would be reasonable to suspect that there are other groups available for follow-on operations, also manned by some number of suicidal operatives. The alternative theory, that this was a single-shot attack, does not cohere with the operational style we have observed from bin Laden in the past.

His previous strikes have utilized limited operatives and have been designed to use up all resources in one fell swoop. Thus, in planning for possible failure, Al-Qa'ida would have had to create multiple units. This is an unsettling thought, since if the additional units approximate the first unit in size and expertise, then we can assume that follow-on operations could be on the same order of magnitude.

On the other hand, in planning for a successful operation we would expect that the additional units were already in the United States. We know that the first cell entered the United States quite some time ago, married up with its cash supply and proceeded to obtain resources.

We also know, as Al-Qa'ida had to know, that entering the United States following a successful or even failed attack would become enormously more difficult. In addition, the time needed for planning follow-on operations meant that there could be little control over the tempo of operations.

Given this, there are two assumptions that must be made for North American defense at this time:

The first attack group, consisting of attackers and ground support elements, was not the only group tasked with attacking North America.
Additional units, numbers unknown, are already deployed in the United States or in North America.
It is not clear whether these groups were aware of each other at all or, if aware, to what degree they had contact with each other. It is similarly unclear whether they maintained ongoing contact with Al-Qa'ida outside the country.

Clearly they were able to evade U.S. security and intelligence during this operation. There are several potential explanations for this. One is a massive intelligence failure on the part of the United States. Another is that Al-Qa'ida has developed a sophisticated understanding of how U.S. intelligence works and has developed protocols for evading them. A final explanation is that communication between task forces and command centers were either totally eliminated or kept to an absolute minimum.

Undoubtedly all three are partially true. But the attackers could not count on an intelligence failure, nor could they trust their understanding of U.S. intelligence systems. The one process that they could rely on would have been severing contacts with their home base early in the process and then permitting contacts only on the most intermittent basis manageable.

In the extreme form, it is possible that after being deployed with a general mission no further contact was made with Al-Qa'ida. This would mean that personnel movements and money transfers took place months or even years ago. It is also possible that bin Laden knew that these groups were operational, but for security's sake he did not know precisely what they were going to do or even when they were going to do it.

There is evidence that indicates some degree of ongoing coordination, particularly the recent killing of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood, which appears to have been coordinated with the attack. However, the basic assumption that the attackers escaped detection because they minimized interaction would still hold true.

Even more likely is the assumption that each task force was kept deliberately in the dark about the others. Each group may even have been told that it would become activated if and when a major and unmistakable action -- or two, or three and so on -- took place.

That would mean the current roundup of suspects would be the ground support team from the first group of attackers, along with others who had brushed up against them. The final mission of the ground support group might be to deliberately provide information leading to their arrest so that they could point the finger in several fruitless directions, overloading U.S. security forces and diverting them from the search for operational teams.

We have already dealt with some of the operational principles of the attackers in Part 1 of our special report this week. It is sufficient to point out that in the past attacks have been widely separated by time and place and have differed as to target time and means of delivery. However, in our view precedent is not a determining factor in this case. The prior missions were preliminaries. This is clearly the main bout. Different rules apply.

Al-Qaida's goals lead to the expectation of a strategic campaign that is designed not only as a terror campaign with a psychological warfare goal but also as an attack on American infrastructure, designed to degrade the functioning of the American economy and place pressure on U.S. national command structures.

It follows that two parallel campaigns will be waged:

A psychological warfare campaign built around deliberately random attacks designed to disrupt daily life and create distrust in the government.
A strategic bombing campaign designed to directly undermine the operations of the United States.
In parallel there will be a third campaign, which we might call a disinformation campaign. Al-Qa'ida has specialized in confusing U.S. intelligence by constantly signaling attacks where none came. One of the most effective of these has been permitting the capture of attack plans that either exist simply as contingency plans or planning documents, or which are deliberately fabricated to force high levels of alert along with defused attention.

One of the ongoing characteristics of bin Laden's attacks is that they are staged at completely unanticipated moments. The targets may have been signaled in the past but only in the context of endless additional signals, so that the truth is buried in a grave of lies. Therefore, there will be constant alerts and signals, but the attacks will continue to be unanticipated.

This is the challenge for Al-Qa'ida now. Truly unanticipated attacks require time so that defenders relax. The new groups of attackers know that there could be a security failure on their part and that they might not have time. They also want to maintain a tempo of operations that drives home the weakness of the United States in the Islamic world. That argues for a more rapid tempo of operations, covered by more intense disinformation. This also creates a massive challenge within the North American theater of operations.

Defending North America

In a certain sense, the North American theater is more an investigative and police operation rather than a military one. The three major countries in North America provide their citizens with legal rights and protections against state action. Apart from the inherent need to respect those rights, one of the obvious goals of any special operation is psychological warfare, to drive a wedge between a combatant state and its citizens. Using military methods to combat the threat would mean treating the population as potentially hostile. Apart from the public response to such a posture, using military rather than police methods would mean a transformation of the state's perception of its relationship to the public. That would have substantial long term consequences.

That said, an aggressive investigative methodology is required, one that can achieve extraordinary goals-identifying and liquidating special operations task forces hiding within the general population, as well as in identifiable sub-groups such as the Arab-American community. A high degree of discrimination and restraint is therefore required in all operations against the attackers, the type of discrimination that is normally in the sphere of the police.

Another reason for discrimination has to do with economic and social efficiency. Security and efficiency are in many respects competing values. The greater security measures there are in place, the longer it takes to carry out certain functions. For example, increases in security at airports can dramatically increase the time and cost involved in travel, since time is frequently money.

Indiscriminate security measures can be highly effective, but frequently at the cost of economic degradation. Since one of the strategic goals of the attackers is clearly economic degradation, each additional quantum of security must be measured against the resulting economic cost. This also argues against a broad security regime and for a highly discriminatory one.

This also obviously creates an environment in which the attackers have extensive opportunities to evade security forces and mount attacks. The central problem with a security approach is that it is defensive, reactive and inherently inefficient. It gives the attacker the initiative. It is also fiendishly expensive, both in direct costs and indirect costs of efficiency. Moreover, it is an interminable operation, since it does not definitively deal with the problem.

The initial response is to try to find the center of gravity in some state that can be subdued. This is certainly a more efficient war-fighting strategy. Bu the problem is that, as we have argued, it is not clear that attack forces already in the United States, or even those planning to infiltrate, are heavily dependent on outside support, once money is transferred into America. Eliminating the home base and the host country does not necessarily end the war-fighting capability of forces already deployed.

Money is the great enabler, and obviously the United States has targeted the cash supply of the enemy. The weakness with this strategy is that it will attempt to trace a path of money that is possibly several years old. In a sense, this strategy has more strategic than tactical promise.

Finding the large pools of cash is more likely than finding the small quantities that have been allocated to ongoing operations. That money has been moved so many times and so much of it has been turned directly into cash that it will be impossible to shut down launched operations using this tactic. Recall that some of the pilot-trainees used cash to pay for their tuition. The attackers also seem to have moved around quite a bit. Finding the money on a tactical level is extraordinarily difficult.

Thus, on a strategic level, over the coming years, attacking the money supply might well represent the elegant solution to the problem. However, on a tactical level, and in the immediate future, while it might yield some information on individuals and groups, it is unlikely to undermine operational capabilities. The cash may no longer even be in the banking system

The central problem is that there are strategic solutions available that may not impact the tactical situation. That leaves the United States open to unacceptable threat levels without clear counters. At the very same time, successfully closing in on the attack forces increases pressure on them to act quickly, to use it, or lose it if you will. Since all attack groups, except the bombing group, are expended in the operation, the closer investigators come to the attackers, the more likely they are to trigger the attack they were hoping to deter.

Since the target set is elusive and elastic, a purely defensive posture is the best option, but we have already seen its limitations. This creates a double bind situation, in which strategic solutions do not yield tactical solutions, while effective tactical solutions increases the risk of attacks.

The likely solution will be a two-tiered strategy. The strategic tier, primarily located in the intercontinental theater of operations, will attempt to break the back of follow-on operations not yet deployed in North America. The tactical tier will focus on an aggressive attempt to break into existing attack forces already deployed in the United States, using information drawn domestically and from other theaters.

We expect that security will be a process rather than a solution. That is to say, the American mindset that is inherently casual about the dispersal and hardening of key infrastructure will shift over time. The tendency in the United States has been to create economies of scale by concentrating infrastructure, both military and civilian.

Petrochemicals, transportation hubs, power generation and endless other examples come to mind. The problem with concentration was made obvious on Sept. 11. It is a principle of security that dispersal and redundancy create a survivable system. That coupled with active security systems decreases, but doesn't eliminate the possibility of enemy attack.

It is not simply the immediate time cost of security procedures that will have to be absorbed by the economy, but also the costs of restructuring infrastructure to reduce vulnerability and increase the speed at which systems recover. Interestingly, the cost may actually stimulate rather than degrade the economy, which is not the case with purely passive security procedures that absorb unrecoverable time.

The most difficult issue will be determining whether follow-attack forces have been deployed and then identifying their members. This is not a random population. Previous attackers were all Muslims and, it appears, Arabic, drawn primarily from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is not clear that they were all using the cover of existing Arab communities. From reports, it appears that many moved away from intensely Arabic communities, moving into the broader population.

This makes them geographically harder to track. The locus of operations cannot be boiled down to six or seven defined areas. At the same time, it makes it possible to identify potential operatives. This immediately poses a fundamental moral dilemma. Most Americans of Arab descent are guilty of nothing but association: they share an ethnic identity. At the same time, it would be absurd to pretend that African-Americans or Swedish-Americans are as likely to be operatives as Arabs.

Without a degree of profiling, the entire process becomes immediately hopeless. If security forces must pretend that they don't know what they do know, which is that the most likely suspects are Arab, they will dissipate limited resources very quickly. The likely population must be targeted. It must also be understood that this will inevitably lead to excesses. Overzealousness and stupidity are as present in the FBI as in any public or private entity. There will inevitably be cases in which reasonable and decent boundaries are overstepped.

There will be an inevitable pushback from the targeted community. There will also be a pushback from other sectors of society as the inconvenience and cost of security is recognized. It is not clear that, over time, American society is capable of accepting the limitations of increased security. This will be particularly true if the tempo of operations remains at current levels and we see one major action per year. As Sept. 11 drifts into the past and if attacks abate, the sense of urgency needed for the security may dissipate.


In some important ways, operations in the North American theater will be the most difficult to carry out. Sealing off the continent is a daunting task, even with seamless cooperation from Mexico and Canada. Most difficult of all will be determining conclusively whether there are any other forces operating here and liquidating them if there are.

It is not clear that the first group had definitive knowledge of follow-on groups. It is not clear that conventional investigations will uncover more than the remnants of the first group. Indeed, it seems that the most important information for fighting the war in North America will have to be gathered outside of North America, in what we call the intercontinental theater of operations -- the back alley intelligence war -- where someone, somewhere, might know what is needed.

In the meantime, Al-Qa'ida, if its units are in place, retain the advantage of stealth, and therefore the advantage of determining the time, place and tempo of operations. It is imperative that this advantage be taken from them. It is not clear how the advantage can be seized, or as important, whether seizing the advantage will trigger a more intense response.

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War Plan Part 2:
The Afghan Theater of Operations
2150 GMT, 010925


Though a war on terrorism is fraught with peril for U.S. forces, the best plan appears to be combining small-scale, highly mobile special operations forces with limited carrier-based air strikes. Such a strategy could be quite effective if the war aim is carefully defined. The United States must first concentrate on toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, rendering the position of Osama bin Laden untenable in that country.


The Conceptual Framework

Afghanistan is critical to American war planning for two reasons. First, it is the base of Osama bin Laden and his extremist al-Qa'ida organization (the term al-Qa'ida means "base"); killing bin Laden and destroying his facilities in Afghanistan represents a war aim in its own right.

In responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Washington must face an enemy with numerous strengths while avoiding playing into the strategy of Osama bin Laden and his backers. To achieve its goals, the United States must create several theaters of operations, including in Afghanistan, North America and throughout the world. This week STRATFOR will closely analyze each theater and how the United States will operate there.

Second, the Taliban regime that governs Afghanistan has provided sanctuary for al-Qa'ida and possibly operational resources as well. Under the doctrine that any country that provided support for the Sept. 11 attackers shares responsibility for their actions, Afghanistan represents a hostile power subject to attack.

The most elegant war plan would be to invade Afghanistan, engage and annihilate its armed forces and occupy the country. But for the United States, the most elegant solution and military reality do not coincide. The geography, topography and geopolitics of Afghanistan and Central Asia make the concentration of sufficient force along Afghanistan's frontier extremely difficult to achieve. It also makes military operations both difficult and dangerous. Historically, outside powers have not been able to occupy and pacify Afghanistan.

It is always a danger sign when military capabilities prohibit the pursuit of the most elegant war plan -- especially when it becomes politically impossible to decline combat. Such a divergence frequently leads to strategic and operational confusion. Military planners sometimes overreach themselves, deludedly thinking resources at hand will be sufficient to achieve the elegant solution. This is a particularly intense possibility when extreme political pressure is involved. At other times, planners shift from elegant to inelegant objectives. That is, they create extremely complex and sometimes contradictory lesser war aims that, although theoretically suited to their resources, in practice lead to a diffusion of efforts and a division of forces.

To plan and fight a war under these circumstances requires extraordinary political, strategic and operational discipline. Aims must be crisply defined, and plans must match forces to aims. Most important, the inherent danger of inelegant war aims -- mission creep -- must be avoided. As the clearly defined mission is in the process of completion, the temptation of political leaders and military commanders is to redefine the mission more broadly. Sometimes this is because the very success of the limited operation creates the illusion that the initial analysis was overly pessimistic. Sometimes this is because enemy counterattacks and threats seem to compel military commanders to increase the scope of the operation in order to protect their forces. Both cases can lead to catastrophe.

U.S. Military Options

American political leaders have committed the country to military action in Afghanistan. Therefore, the United States must craft and execute inelegant military plans. In making these plans, the United States has a rather clear set of options, in ascending order of resource commitment and risk:

Carry out punitive air strikes on Afghanistan and likely bases of al-Qa'ida using cruise missiles, naval aviation and long-range U.S. Air Force bombers, some based in the United States.
Launch special operations against bin Laden personally and al-Qa'ida's infrastructure in general.
Conduct a systematic air war against Afghanistan using resources listed in the first case, along with land-based aircraft based in or near the Afghan theater of operations.
Use special forces and logistical support to enable forces hostile to the Taliban to overthrow the government.
Use ground forces built up in-theater to invade Afghanistan, seizing the major cities and securing key roads.
Use ground forces to invade Afghanistan, destroy the Afghan army and pacify the countryside.
In general, the lesser option is to be included as a subset of the more ambitious option.

Calibrating war aims is, in this case, heavily dependent on geography. Afghanistan differs fundamentally from all other countries the United States has fought in that it is landlocked. Any plan for invading Afghanistan on virtually any scale -- beyond small sorties staged from carriers operating more than 300 miles from Afghanistan's southern border and more than 700 miles from its capital, Kabul -- requires the political cooperation of one or more neighboring countries.

Afghanistan has five neighbors. Iran, to the west, is an enemy of the Taliban regime and recently has shown tendencies toward reconciliation with the United States. Though there is a small possibility that Tehran would permit the United States to stage very small and extremely secret operations from Iranian soil, it is inconceivable that it would permit a large American army to be deployed there. The history of the two countries would not permit that.

Pakistan as a Base

Pakistan lies south and east of Afghanistan. The United States and its allies used it as a sanctuary for Afghan fighters and as the logistical support base for Afghan resistance during the country's war with the Soviets in the 1980s. One of the consequences of this liaison was that the Islamic fundamentalism that drove much of the Afghan resistance reinforced Pakistani tendencies as well. Thus, there is substantial sympathy for the Taliban in Pakistan.

This makes basing large numbers of troops in Pakistan extremely difficult. For any large-scale deployment to occur, the Pakistani port of Karachi -- and smaller ports to the west, such as Ormara -- would have to be secured. The highways from the port to the frontier would also have to be secured while men are moved forward and material built up. Finally, the forward bases would have to be secured.

Regardless of Islamabad's intent, it cannot guarantee the security of U.S. forces. Given the disasters in Beirut and at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, it is clear that the United States would have to take operational control of its own security. That would mean, in effect, the occupation and pacification of substantial portions of Pakistan as a precursor to any operation against Afghanistan.

Resistance to the presence of a large U.S. force in Pakistan could easily involve elements of Pakistan's military and security forces as well as Taliban sympathizers. Moreover, any division-size ground forces attacking Afghanistan would have to pass through extraordinarily difficult and even impassable terrain. The United States does not have sufficient forces available to secure Pakistan and stage an invasion of Afghanistan, even against trivial forces.

A similar problem pertains to basing attack aircraft in Pakistan. The security of the air bases would require substantial numbers of American troops. In particular, the transport of petroleum, oil and lubricants necessary to sustain air operations would be extremely vulnerable to interdiction by indigenous forces. The air bases could easily become hostage to attackers, drawing U.S. ground forces into a battle that could not be won.

The United States can expect two things from Pakistan. The first is that Pakistan will permit the United States to use its air space. The second is that it will permit the United States and its allies to base small special operations teams in remote areas of the country, with as much secrecy as can be mustered. Those teams obviously must provide their own security.

There are serious questions as to whether all elements of Pakistan's armed forces will honor Islamabad's commitments. There is at least some possibility -- at least enough to be considered a factor -- that rogue elements of the military might use Pakistani surface-to-air missiles or interceptor aircraft against U.S. aircraft. U.S. air refueling tankers would be particularly vulnerable, along with command and control aircraft like AWACS.

This factor seriously constrains the use of air power. The Indian government has offered the use of several of its bases. Ground security at these bases doubtless would be far superior. U.S. aircraft, however, would still have to fly through Pakistani air space, assuming that China does not grant overflight privileges. In our view, the use of Indian basing would improve ground security and increase the number of sorties that aircraft based in nearby countries could fly. But it would also dramatically increase the risk that elements of the Pakistani military might interdict flights. Clearly, the U.S. Air Force could manage this risk -- but it would represent the type of diffusion of effort that is so dangerous in warfare of this kind.

This means, in our opinion, that naval forces would have to carry out most air operations in this region. Since an aircraft carrier can, under optimal conditions, launch perhaps 40 strike aircraft plus fighter cover and tankers, a fleet of four to five carriers could sortie between 160 and 200 strike aircraft, at the most generous limits. A more reasonable number of strike aircraft would be in the range of 100 to 125, adjusting for mission availability and force mix on the carrier. Assuming two sorties in a 24-hour period, this would allow the United States to carry out strikes on key infrastructure and at bases specified by intelligence.

The force is not sufficient even in its optimal form to paralyze a country like Afghanistan.

Strike aircraft flying out of Turkey or Persian Gulf bases could join these naval forces. A mission from Turkey, however, would be nearly 2,000 miles long; one from the Gulf would travel about 1,500 miles. The mission would be doable, but it would require several refuelings. Moreover, it would not permit the tempo of operations required for substantial, sustained damage to Afghanistan. Therefore, the naval aviation would be supported primarily by long-range sorties by B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers -- some based in Diego Garcia and other near-theater bases, some operating directly from the United States. This, plus Tomahawks, would constitute the bulk of the air campaign.

This means that any war conducted primarily from Pakistan would be severely handicapped from the start. Security considerations limit forces to special operations troops operating from potentially vulnerable bases, in terrain that is both difficult and dangerous for helicopters and extremely time-consuming and dangerous on foot. The air war would be limited primarily to naval forces.

The Northern Option

Three republics of the former Soviet Union line the northern border of Afghanistan: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Now independent, these nations have complex relations with the Afghanis and the Russians. Each has ethnic ties with elements on the other side of the Afghan border. Each was used as a staging area in the war with the Soviet Union. Each values its independence yet remains within the Russian sphere of influence.

Russia continues to maintain a covert presence in Afghanistan. A small northeastern portion of Afghanistan remains under the control of a loose coalition called the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. Commonly known as the Northern Alliance, it is a confederation of mostly ethnically defined armies who share antipathy toward the Taliban but little else. The various factions within the Northern Alliance are backed individually or collectively by Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The military leader of the Northern Alliance was killed in what appeared to be a suicide bombing just days before the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. It has been speculated that bin Laden's agents killed Ahmad Shah Massoud in anticipation of the Sept. 11 events. According to this theory, bin Laden -- expecting an intense American response -- saw the area occupied by the Northern Alliance as particularly dangerous. Though driven from more than 90 percent of Afghan territory, opposition forces still hold positions only about 20 miles from Kabul. By killing Massoud, bin Laden hoped to destabilize the Northern Alliance, preventing the United States from using its territory as a base.

It is not clear that the strategy succeeded, since Russia also supports the Northern Alliance with funds and weapons. Russia's support for the group has intensified in recent years, motivated by fear of the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in general and of the Taliban in particular. The area controlled by the Northern Alliance abuts Tajikistan, where substantial pro-Taliban, pro-bin Laden sentiment exists. A Taliban victory over the Northern Alliance could potentially cement Tajikistan to the Taliban. This was something the Russians could not tolerate -- either for their general position in Central Asia or in the context of their war with Muslim Chechens.

Thus, despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia continues to maintain a substantial presence in Central Asia. The region also contains military facilities, particularly air bases, dating back to the war with Afghanistan. This is a region in which the United States could build up both air and ground forces with greater security than in Pakistan. As important, this is an area from which it could actually move forces directly into Afghanistan, particularly in the area held by the Northern Alliance.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan provide the most promising axes of attack. Each has its own reason for welcoming U.S. troops, but there is a common denominator. Each is concerned that Russia is eroding its independence. Each would view a U.S. presence as a potential guarantee against Russia. Therefore, they already appear to have welcomed some American troops.

The problem with their analysis is that they underestimate the dependency that the United States would have on Russia in such a scenario. First, the United States would be operating within the Russian sphere of influence, and the Kremlin would force the United States to formally acknowledge that. Second, it would be using Russian assets within the Northern Alliance. Finally, the distances involved would require substantial Russian logistical support. There would be no way for the United States to build up major forces and ship bulk materials into these countries without Russian assistance.

Using Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would create a de facto Russo-American alliance. Russia's price for its services would be high. It would include substantial financial help, recognition of its sphere of influence within the former Soviet Union, a free hand in Chechnya and the Caucasus and no NATO expansion. In return, the United States would have a geographical base from which to launch operations within Afghanistan.

But even in this region, a conventional war would be impossible. The time required to build up any force capable of moving directly against the Taliban would be measured in years rather than months. Ground-based aircraft could be located here, allowing a more substantial air campaign -- and that is an advantage over Pakistan -- but the task of supplying a high-intensity air campaign would be daunting.

Just as important, the political complexity involved in large-scale basing in this region is mind-boggling. The United States would be rapidly drawn not only into controversies between the host country and the Russians but also into extraordinarily complex political arrangements within the host country. Rather than concentrating on the Afghan campaign, the United States would become a vulnerable and isolated player in a geopolitical region in which its only substantial interest is waging a war against a third party.

In short, basing in this region would be a massive diffusion of effort coupled with extraordinary dangers of mission creep. At the same time, the opportunities for covert operations and the deployment and support of special forces out of this region are important and -- if maintained on a relatively small scale -- can provide another axis of attack into Afghanistan.

The American Strategy

It appears to STRATFOR that the primary mechanisms available to the United States are relatively small scale, special operations forces that are highly mobile and have access to the nation's most comprehensive intelligence capabilities. This force can be coupled with some larger airborne and air mobile assets, but these must be limited in size for political and logistical reasons. The available air capability must be carrier-based, with some strategic support from long-range bombers and possibly, in special circumstances, from air forces in Turkey and the Persian Gulf.

This force appears insufficient at first glance. In fact, it might be quite effective if the war aim is carefully defined. The United States has two goals: One, to topple the Taliban; the other, destroying al-Qa'ida and killing bin Laden. If these goals are treated sequentially rather than in parallel, interesting possibilities emerge. To be more precise, if the focus was on disrupting and defeating the Taliban, bin Laden's position in Afghanistan would become untenable. Apart from his personal fate, the ability to base training and other facilities in Afghanistan would decline or disappear.

Therefore, the heart of the matter is to defeat the Taliban. The resources available are special forces and other light but effective units. There is a unique match between the means needed to defeat the Taliban and the forces that can be made available.

The Taliban regime is not a popular government in much of Afghanistan. It represents the interests of extreme factions of the Pushtun tribe, and it is feared and loathed by most of the country's Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and other ethnic groups. Though initially welcomed for bringing order to the country and raising the prospect of Pushtun rule, the fanaticism of the Taliban and Afghanistan's subsequent isolation and privation have made Taliban members unpopular even among some of their own tribe.

The Taliban were able to take power because of divisions among their enemies, and they have managed to retain power through the unique ruthlessness of their own forces. They are not seen as upholders of custom because they have violated the traditional processes for governing in Afghanistan, unilaterally imposing decisions on the rest of the country. They are not even seen as particularly Afghan, having their roots in Pakistan.

Now, though there is substantial unhappiness, the Afghan people have had no agents -- save the Russians in the northeast -- to coalesce their grievances. Although the United States has allowed its relationships in Afghanistan to atrophy over the years, the fact is that U.S. intelligence and special forces worked extensively with many of these groups during the 1980s, and old relationships can be renewed. We expect that some of this is going on at this moment.

The U.S. Special Forces specialize in working with indigenous groups, training and fighting with them in guerrilla operations. Other U.S. and British forces specialize in commando operations designed to achieve certain ends, including carrying out bombings, assassinations and other actions designed to destabilize governments. The U.S. Navy has sufficient air power to provide support for these small-scale operations as needed, at a tempo of operations that the Navy can sustain.

When we consider the geography of the Taliban and its control of major cities, it becomes possible to conceive of an operation that essentially does to the Taliban what Afghan resistance fighters did to the Russians: bottle them up in the cities and erode their will to resist. Add to the mix the use of air attacks on those cities, and it is conceivable that the Taliban can be broken in a nationwide campaign.

In the course of these operations, and certainly as a consequence of them, bin Laden and al-Qa'ida can be dealt with.


The essential danger U.S. strategists face is a mismatch of goals and resources. Throughout the theater, the tremendous difficulties involved in a major force buildup make it impossible to conceive of an effective war-fighting strategy. However, when the United States accepts the constraints placed on it by geopolitics and works through the political realities on the ground in Afghanistan, a strategy emerges that matches attainable goals with available resources.

In one sense, this is a low-risk, low-cost operation. Failure will not be disastrous; success could be enormous. In another sense, there are two substantial risks. The first is the price the Russians and Pakistanis might exact for their services. The second is Americans' expectation of rapid action against Afghanistan, something that may not be apparent in the course of truly covert operations.

Time is the key. Under most circumstances, a strategy such as this would be expected to take years. That would be unfortunate in this case. However, it is not clear that it would take years. The Taliban regime does not necessarily have as strong a grip on power as might appear, and it is possible, through effective operations, to rapidly spread the sense that they are doomed. It is a case in which the perception of failure can lead to the reality.

In short, the optimum strategy is one combining all of the elements of insurgency -- from psychological warfare to supply of weapons to insurgents. The virtue of this strategy is that it is the only one that could possibly bring down the Taliban and destroy bin Laden. We believe this is the option defense planners have selected. There will be no massive deployment of aircraft or divisions to the region. This will be a guerrilla war, with the United States orchestrating the guerrillas.

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War Plan Part I
U.S. Must Create Theaters of Operations
2145 GMT, 010924


In responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Washington must face an enemy with numerous strengths while avoiding playing into the strategy of Osama bin Laden and his backers. To achieve its goals, the United States must create several theaters of operations, including in Afghanistan, North America and throughout the world. This week STRATFOR will closely analyze each theater and how the United States will operate there.


The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon paralyzed the New York financial markets for four days and shut down the air transport system completely for a similar period of time. The attacks also degraded the U.S. economy substantially, both by its direct effects on economic activity and by its impact on public confidence.

Washington has asserted, with reason, that the attacks were organized by Al-Qa'ida, a group founded by Osama bin Laden. The United States must and will respond, but it must also take into account the strengths of its formidable enemy. For their part, bin Laden's forces and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban have likely developed a war plan to exploit the perceived weaknesses of the United States.

Several factors point to a degree of sophistication and dedication among the attackers that is extraordinary. First, they maintained operational security while moving personnel and large sums of money intercontinentally. They clearly understood the parameters of U.S. technical and human intelligence and developed methods for evading them.

Second, the selected targets were also chosen for both symbolic value and the ability to inflict massive casualties and tremendous secondary effects. There is no reason whatever to believe the attackers did not understand the likely outcome of their operation.

Last, the operational security of the organization behind the attacks was not breached after the strikes. U.S. security and intelligence services clearly cannot be certain at this point whether other cells have been deployed in the United States and what their missions might be. If there are additional cells, they retain the advantage of tactical surprise at the moment. And even if there are no additional cells, the United States must still behave as if there are.

The goals of Al-Qa'ida's members are essentially simple. They see the Islamic world as occupied by non-Islamic forces, either directly or through puppet regimes. They wish to end the occupation and unite Islam. The United States, as the leading power in the world and the patron of many Islamic regimes, is the center of gravity of the anti-Islamic world. If the United States can be broken, or at least expelled from the Islamic world, other anti-Islamic powers such as Russia, China and Israel will crumble.

Al-Qa'ida does not expect to destroy the United States directly. It fully understands the severe limits on its resources. Rather, bin Laden's strategy is to force the United States into a series of actions that will destabilize the governments of Washington's Islamic partners and lead to their collapse. For instance, such an outcome could occur for Islamic countries that cooperate -- due to pressure by Washington -- with the U.S. campaign against terrorism.

A collapse would likely force the United States into a direct occupation of these countries, exposing U.S. forces to attacks on terrain favorable to the enemy. In such an occupation, be it in Indonesia or Morocco, bin Laden is confident his forces could generate an uprising against the United States that would force its withdrawal.

Bin Laden does not believe the United States could defeat an uprising for several reasons. First, the experience of foreign powers in suppressing mass, popular uprisings has been poor. Second, although the United States has important interests in the Islamic world, they are not on a scale to justify the expense and casualties involved in a long-term occupation. Finally, bin Laden regards the United States as morally corrupt and incapable of major exertion in the face of adversity.

Given his views, it must be assumed that bin Laden's forces and the Taliban have developed a two-pronged war plan. First, as the United States deploys forces into Afghanistan, they will be attacked as targets of opportunity, particularly in the early stages of any buildup. This will especially include attacks in northern Afghanistan where the opposition Northern Alliance will undoubtedly host American forces.

The anti-U.S. forces will also use cross-border operations in neighboring countries hosting American troops, including Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. These operations need not be large-scale or very successful. Their goal will be to unbalance U.S. forces during the buildup and, most important, draw them deeper into Afghanistan to stop the attacks at their source.

Second, within the United States, bin Laden's forces will continue intermittent attacks against a variety of targets with the aim of destabilizing U.S. psychology, creating doubts about the capabilities of the U.S. government, driving home the costs of the war to the American public and generating confidence in the Islamic world.

It would then be logical to assume other assault groups are already present in the United States, either awaiting activation or authorized to act on their own initiative. It is likely, given the extreme operational security maintained, that support-team members of the first assault group are unaware of the existence of these other groups and that minimal, if any, communication is taking place between them and Al-Qa'ida.

They have a natural advantage in that U.S. forces are weakened because they cannot define the enemy's target set with any certainty and therefore must be dissipated. Since the targets vastly outnumber the defenders, Al-Qa'ida has created at least a temporarily superior position.

In the first thoughts on a counterattack, the United States appears to have three missions. First, prevent any further attacks by Al-Qa'ida against American assets. Second, kill Osama bin Laden and destroy Al-Qa'ida and all of its linked organizations on a worldwide basis. And third, punish all countries that have supported Al-Qa'ida, beginning with Afghanistan.

In order to achieve these goals, the United States must create, at least notionally, three or more separate theaters of operations, the first being in Afghanistan. The United States must define its strategic goal here. This can range from killing bin Laden, to destroying Al-Qa'ida, to overthrowing the Taliban and occupying the major Afghan cities or pacifying the country. The issue is to match U.S. ambitions with U.S. resources and not play into bin Laden's own strategy.

In the North American theater of operations, the strategic goals -- now being called Homeland Defense -- are to seal off as much of North America as possible from further penetration of enemy forces, thereby creating an arena for destroying forces already present. In many ways, this is less of a military theater than a security theater.

The intercontinental theater of operations must also be addressed. It is understood that Al-Qa'ida has dispersed its operational assets globally. At this moment it is likely that each continent has several operational groups present. These groups must be identified and destroyed. This is also not primarily a military theater. Rather it is a theater in which intelligence and covert operations are critical and in which coalition cooperation is most essential and the most difficult to achieve.

Follow-on countries comprise the final theater of operations. The United States has already suggested that, in due course, Iraq would be added to the list of countries considered a state sponsor of the Sept. 11 attacks. Bin Laden would like to see several other countries added to that list. Indonesia is an excellent example of a country that is already destabilized, has a growing Islamic movement and is critical to U.S. interests. In other words, follow-on theaters of operation may not be areas of American choosing.

Each day this week, STRATFOR will discuss American responses in each theater. But in order to respond, the United States must remember the following: Its enemy is dispersed, has designed redundancy into its systems and seems to understand how our systems work, at least well enough to have evaded them on and prior to Sept. 11. It has shown it knows how to extract maximum advantage out of a relatively small numbers of operatives and has men who are prepared to go to their certain death.

It is also an enemy that may have structured a war plan based on a faulty assumption, which is that the Islamic world is perched on the edge of a volcano of populist Islam and that the U.S. response will trigger it.

The American perception of bin Laden is that, being isolated in Afghanistan, he is a marginal player with a sophisticated network of operatives and that his dream of an Islamic uprising is merely a fantasy. The United States also believes that an exercise of decisive force in Afghanistan, and the disabling and disruption of bin Laden's network in the United States and the rest of the world, will delegitimize him permanently.

Bin Laden has played his cards. We must now consider how the United States will play its hand.

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