Special Feature - Terror Attack Aftermath


Taliban Fighters Less Likely to Surrender
War on Terror: Is Iraq Next?
Closing in On al -Qaeda



Dec 7th 2001
Economist Global Agenda

In a decisive military victory for American-backed Afghan forces, the Taliban have begun surrendering in their last stronghold, Kandahar. Agreement has been reached on a new transitional regime, offering tentative hope for peace

Aiming at the Taliban

AS AN important military and political force in Afghanistan, the Taliban are ending where they began in 1994, in their southern stronghold and spiritual capital, Kandahar. Reduced elsewhere in Afghanistan to no more than a few pockets of control and a scattered guerrilla force, Taliban fighters, both Afghan and foreign, made Kandahar their last redoubt. But on December 6th, their leader, Mohammad Omar, agreed to hand over the city to opposition forces. Just three months after the attacks on America that started this war, and two months since America launched its bombing campaign, this surrender virtually concludes a remarkably swift rout. The Taliban, with their austere interpretation of Islam, were harsh and brutal rulers; their regime has proved unpopular and brittle.

Earlier, Mullah Omar had repeatedly told his followers to fight to the death in Kandahar. Even now, despite being demoralised by weeks of pounding from American bombers, some may choose to do so. There are reports of fighting and looting in the city. The opposing commander who has negotiated the ceasefire, Hamid Karzai, is the man who, on December 5th, was chosen by a conference in Germany as the leader of a new transitional administration for Afghanistan. But power in the city is being transferred to other commanders. Mr Karzai has said the surrender is unconditional, and that the city will be governed by a “council of tribal elders and religious clergy”.

Mr Karzai has also suggested that Taliban fighters who lay down their arms and are not associated with terrorism will benefit from an amnesty. But he has backed away from earlier suggestions that this might apply even to Mullah Omar, who, he now says, “does not fall into the category of people who have security.” America would certainly have disapproved of any deal with Mullah Omar. It will be insistent that the foreigners are not allowed to return as free men to their homes—mainly in Pakistan and Arab countries. It will also want to see the Taliban's leader himself brought to justice as a sponsor of international terrorism and protector of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network. Mullah Omar's whereabouts, however, remain unclear.

American power

America will not define even this comprehensive defeat of the Taliban as victory in the war. Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, has described the continuing war effort as a “complicated, long, difficult, messy, dirty job”. The fall of Kandahar in itself does not bring it to an end. America’s top priority in Afghanistan remains the obliteration of the remnants of al-Qaeda, and the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. America now has a substantial military presence on the ground, with 1,500-2,000 soldiers in the country, including more than 1,000 marines camped in southern Afghanistan near Kandahar. American warplanes had been bombing the city relentlessly in support of the Afghan ground forces that have been slowly advancing towards it. One Taliban spokesman claimed thousands of people had died. On December 5th, one bombing raid went wrong, leading to the death of three American soldiers and five Afghan anti-Taliban fighters. Another 20 Americans were injured, as was Mr Karzai himself, though he has scoffed at his wound as no more than a scratch.

American planes are also bombing an area known as Tora Bora, near Jalalabad, a suspected hiding place of Mr bin Laden. There are reports that in doing so they have killed Mr bin Laden’s most senior henchman, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. The Pentagon has said it believes some al-Qaeda leaders have been killed, but cannot identify which ones. America has also been accused of causing large numbers of civilian casualties near Tora Bora. The Pentagon has denied this, but Médecins sans Frontières, an aid agency, says its own staff have recovered more than 80 bodies, and that it is withdrawing from the area because of the anti-foreign resentment the bombing has evoked. Local anti-Taliban village and tribal leaders have asked America to stop the bombing, and have attacked al-Qaeda forces in Tora Bora themselves. They say that in intense fighting on the night of December 6th, they took control of Mr bin Laden's main base there and captured some other Arabs, but did not find their leader.

But even if the fall of Kandahar does not mean the end of the war, it does enable Mr Karzai to go to Kabul with large-scale Taliban resistance to his interim regime crushed, and with Afghanistan enjoying at least a chance of peace, after more than two decades of conflict.

An agreement between various Afghan factions, reached on December 5th after eight days of haggling at Königswinter near Bonn, may prove to be just the latest of many false dawns the benighted country has suffered. But there are some reasons for optimism: the sheer war-weariness of Afghans themselves; the unprecedented level of international interest in their plight and the billions of dollars in aid that may flow from that; and the agreement just reached, which is both more inclusive in the parties that have signed up to it than many would have thought possible, and more ambitious in its long-term aims than anything previously tried. So the United Nations officials who convened the conference in Königswinter and nursed it to its successful conclusion can be forgiven some self-congratulation.

But there are also grounds for worry. As Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s special envoy for Afghanistan, told delegates: “The real work starts now.” Already, disgruntled faction leaders are sniping at the agreement. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic-Uzbek warlord, who was not in Bonn, has said it is unfair to his faction, and that an agreement to grant it the foreign ministry has been broken. He has threatened to boycott the new administration. Mr Dostum’s forces, when they took control of the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif last month, started the rout of the Taliban. Another leader, Syed Ahmad Gailani, an ethnic-Pushtun, who did take part in the Bonn conference, criticised the agreement as “unbalanced”.

Karzai, victor of Kandahar?

Its immediate effect will be to install in Kabul, on December 22nd, an interim executive council, or cabinet, of 30 members. Its chairman, Mr Karzai, is an ethnic-Pushtun tribal leader, who was not in Germany, being fully occupied near Kandahar. He is the head of the powerful Popalzai clan, which has for centuries been linked to Afghanistan’s royal dynasty. The interim council will rule the country for up to six months, during which an especially-appointed independent commission will make preparations for a loya jirga, a traditional grand assembly of tribal elders. That will decide on a transitional administration to run the country for another two years or so, during which a new constitution will be drafted and, eventually, elections will be held. The agreement also provides for foreign peacekeepers to provide security in and around Kabul.

The parties to it represent four Afghan factions. The fundamental difficulty has been that the biggest and most powerful of these factions, the Northern Alliance, is dominated by members of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnic groups, mainly Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. The other three factions did represent the largest ethnic group, the Pushtuns. But they were all exiles, who no longer had actual control of territory in Afghanistan. The biggest of these was that representing Zahir Shah, an octogenarian former king, who was deposed in a coup in 1973 and lives in Rome.

The Northern Alliance has been the biggest military victor in the war. It has expanded the area of the country under its control from less than a tenth to virtually the entire north, including Kabul. All through the Taliban’s rule, the Northern Alliance had been recognised by most foreign countries, and by the UN, as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, and its leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, had been, in diplomatic fiction, its president. The fear of the other factions, including some of the other seven that make up the Alliance itself, has been that Mr Rabbani, having staked his territorial claim to be president in fact as well as name, would refuse to relinquish the post.

Will the deal stick?

Mr Rabbani did indeed prove one of the biggest obstacles to an agreement in Königswinter. Even as it was on the verge of success, he was refusing to nominate Alliance candidates for seats on the new council. But he seems to have been over-ruled by younger Alliance leaders, such as Yunis Qanuni, its “interior minister” and the leader of its delegation at the talks, and Abdullah Abdullah, the Alliance foreign minister. Both those men will keep their posts in the new council, as will the Alliance’s defence minister.

In all, the Alliance will have more than half the 30 seats. This may lay the agreement open to criticism from Pushtun groups for being unrepresentative, the charge already made by Mr Gailani. The appointment of Mr Karzai as the council’s chairman may go some way towards answering these critics. But he himself knows as well as anyone that Afghanistan has become a country where traditions of political compromise were uprooted long ago, supplanted by warlordism and terror.



Taliban Fighters Less Likely to Surrender
2110 GMT, 011129


International Red Cross workers Nov. 28 began removing the bodies of hundreds of dead Taliban prisoners from a compound near Mazar-e-Sharif, where an uprising by the group sparked three days of intense fighting. The overwhelming response from the Northern Alliance, backed by British and American advisors and U.S. air strikes, left no survivors. The extreme use of force could lead any foreign Taliban fighter heretofore considering surrender to now see little choice but to fight to the death.


International Red Cross workers Nov. 28 began removing the bodies of hundreds of dead Taliban prisoners from the Qala-e-Jhangi fort, near the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. An uprising by the prisoners, most of whom were Chechen, Pakistani or Arab Taliban fighters, led to a three-day clash with Northern Alliance and foreign forces. According to reports, all of the 300 to 600 prisoners were killed after intense fighting backed by U.S. air strikes on the compound.

The overwhelming force used by Northern Alliance and coalition forces to quell the uprising has raised concerns from other Arab and Muslim nations, including Iraq and Pakistan. More directly, the deaths of the prisoners send a strong signal to other foreign fighters still inside Afghanistan. Any thought they may have had about surrendering before has been wiped away, leaving little choice but to comply with Taliban orders to fight to the death.

For U.S. and coalition forces active inside Afghanistan, this exacerbates a difficult situation. Defense officials have already warned that hardcore Taliban fighters were unlikely to surrender, and could resort to suicide missions. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a press conference Nov. 26 coined the phrase "dead-ender type" in reference to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Rumsfeld said Omar and other Taliban and al Qaeda members were unlikely to ever surrender or be captured alive, and essentially suggested that the dangers of taking any such prisoner far outweighed the benefits.

The prediction that the enemy will turn to suicide missions may now become a self-fulfilling prophecy for all foreign Taliban fighters and al Qaeda members in Afghanistan. As news of the actions -- and U.S. participation -- during the prison riots spreads to Khandahar and other pockets of defiance in Afghanistan, the United States will face increased resistance and find it harder to take al Qaeda members alive.

The rebellion at the fort began Nov. 25, apparently after a newly arrived prisoner either threw a grenade or blew himself up in the presence of a Northern Alliance military commander. The prisoners then took control of the compound and its armory.

The response from the Northern Alliance and coalition forces was swift and fierce. U.S. warplanes bombed the compound as alliance forces attacked the fort from the ground. A Time magazine reporter on the scene during the fighting reported, "The mission of the Americans and Northern Alliance is to kill every single one of them now." After three days and the death of all the prisoners, the fighting finally ceased.

The incident reveals the tenacity of foreign Taliban fighters, some of who were apparently prepared for a final suicide mission. This is in part fed by the Northern Alliance's alleged brutal treatment of such fighters, particularly those from Pakistan. Shortly after the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, reports of summary executions, beatings and torture emerged.

Yet despite the fight-to-the-death order from Omar, many foreign Taliban fighters in the past few weeks continued to surrender peacefully or attempted to sneak out of Afghanistan. But those considering surrender before, including forces in and around Kandahar, are unlikely to view it as an option now, due to fears that they may receive the same treatment as the prisoners at the Qala-e-Jhangi fort. Others trying to leave the country will be more inclined to resort to fighting if they are spotted by patrols.

Although the United States is trying to capture suspected members of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, this effort may also now prove impossible. The U.S. participation in crushing the prisoner rebellion may convince all remaining foreign Taliban and al Qaeda fighters that surrender or capture are tantamount to death. If U.S. forces cannot take captives without risk of becoming the victim of a suicide attack, the ground war in Afghanistan has taken a deadly turn for both sides.

In the long run, the U.S. action may also undermine Washington's influence in Afghan politics. Air strikes on the prison, no matter how militarily necessary at the time, set a precedent for the acceptability of excessive force against former foes. If U.S. forces are seen in the same manner as the Northern Alliance -- from which brutal treatment of prisoners has come to be expected -- their credibility in Afghanistan will be diminished.

Rather than being seen as an outside force operating under the modicum of human rights, Washington now loses much of its ability to exert moral pressure on the Northern Alliance or any new government that forms in Afghanistan.



Closing in On al -Qaeda

Nov 22nd 2001
The Economist Global Agenda

Western governments have scored a number of successes against al-Qaeda in recent weeks. Muhammed Atef, a key bin Laden lieutenant, has been killed. And in Europe there has been a flurry of arrests. But the movement can not be written off yet

“IN OUR classes, we have entered the field of aviation, and even slit the bird’s throat.” Thus a mysterious interlocutor known as Shakur—possibly one of the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11th—said to a comrade based in Madrid in a cryptic conversation on August 27th. “But my objective is the objective, and I don’t want to go into details,” the caller added, after swearing the listener to secrecy.

These and other bizarre snippets of evidence were presented this week by Baltasar Garzon, Spain’s best-known magistrate, as part of his case for the continued detention of eight militant Islamists, resident in Spain but mostly of Syrian origin, who had been arrested on November 13th. The recipient of the telephone call was Abu Dahdah, also known as Imad Eddin Barakat Yarbas, the leader of the gang of eight and—according to Judge Garzon—the head of a “terrorist cell” which formed part of the al-Qaeda network, whose ultimate godfather is Osama bin Laden. Mohammed Atta, the 33-year-old Egyptian “suicide pilot” who seems to have led the September 11th attacks, had a copy of Mr Dahdah’s phone number among his possessions, and he had visited Spain a couple of times earlier this year.

Judge Garzon believes that the Madrid-based gang were involved in preparing the September onslaught, working under the supervision of Mr bin Laden and other Afghanistan-based godfathers. Maps of several European cities, including Dublin and Milan, as well as forged documents and stolen credit cards, were found in their homes.

The Spanish authorities have said they want to interview the eight detainees about a plot to make one or more suicide attacks in Europe, using poison gas—possibly cyanide—before the end of this year. The American embassy in Paris and the NATO headquarters in Brussels are believed to be among the targets considered.

The European network
Does the wealth of evidence presented by Judge Garzon, along with a spate of arrests and seizures of financial assets in other parts of Europe, suggest that al-Qaeda’s international network is finally being dismantled, just as its foot-soldiers are facing military defeat in Afghanistan? Authorities in several European countries have certainly made some progress in tracking down and arresting militant Islamists. The French authorities have been questioning several Franco-Algerian militants, including Djemal Beghal, who was arrested in July while travelling from Pakistan to Europe and initially stated—though he later sought to retract this—that he had instructions to attack the American embassy in Paris.

Another Franco-Algerian suspect, Kemal Daoudi, was picked up in Britain in late September. He, Mr Beghal and a French convert to Islam, Jerome Courtailler, had spent time together there, sitting at the feet of some of London’s more extreme Islamist preachers. The United States, meanwhile, is hoping that Britain’s courts will soon agree to extradite a Saudi comrade of Mr bin Laden and fellow opponent of the Saudi royal family called Khalid al-Fawwaz, as well as two Egyptians suspected of links to al-Qaeda.

Perhaps the biggest blow of all suffered by the organisation was last week’s death in an American bombing raid in Afghanistan of Mohammed Atef, whose daughter is married to Mr bin Laden’s son, and described in an American court paper as al-Qaeda’s military commander. And it is fair to assume that hundreds of al-Qaeda’s foot-soldiers have been killed during the unequal combat of recent days. But despite this flurry of military defeats, judicial activity and detective work, those who know al-Qaeda best say it would be wildly premature to write the movement off.

The very fact that the eight people detained in Madrid stayed in one country suggests that they cannot have played a central role in the network. The network differs from all other militant Islamist movements in its global reach, its focus on very high-value targets and its skill at covering its traces by spiriting agents from one country to another. Although there are some vocal Islamist preachers who like to boast of their connections with al-Qaeda, the network would never want to use prominent Islamic figures who are probably under police surveillance anyway. Its hardest-core operatives are trained to live as respectable citizens who break no laws.

Where necessary, al-Qaeda will encourage some of its agents to engage in petty crime, like robbery and forgery, as a source of liquid cash; but there is usually a high “Chinese wall” separating these operatives from the prized volunteers who are preparing to lay down their lives in suicide attacks. Only three terrorist operations are viewed with certainty as being al-Qaeda’s work: the August 1998 bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the suicide attack on the USS Cole, an American destroyer, in Yemen last year, and the onslaught of September 11th.

Based on the three “successful” operations—and on other attacks which al-Qaeda has planned but has not managed to execute—analysts have built up a picture of the network’s preferred mode of operation. Support teams are spirited out of the country before or immediately after the operation, while participants in the suicide mission are told not to go anywhere near the scene of their intended crime until a short time beforehand. While Mr bin Laden and his comrades might well take a close interest in the operation, they would be careful not to put any instructions in writing or to use any other easily-intercepted form of communication.

Western governments feel confident that they know the names of most of al-Qaeda’s “consultation council”, the network’s ruling body, which numbers between 25 and 30 people. They apparently include Egyptians (following the merger with al-Qaeda of one of Egypt’s main Islamist movements in 1998), Algerians, Yemenis and Syrians as well as Saudis. But there is still some confusion as to how the council takes decisions, or whether it ever meets in full session. Even less is known about the 4,000 or so fighters who are believed to form the “hard core” of al-Qaeda—some of them now engaged in a losing battle in Afghanistan, and others scattered round the world.

Al-Qaeda’s foot-soldiers have reportedly been given the green light to attack “targets of opportunity” without authorisation at the highest levels

Although the network’s most senior bosses have always kept a close eye—through various ultra-secret lines of communication—on what their agents are doing, that may now change. After the American attack on Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s foot-soldiers have reportedly been given the green light to attack “targets of opportunity” without authorisation at the highest levels. But if the network is plotting any really spectacular attack on western targets, that conspiracy will almost certainly have been under way since long before September 11th.

According to al-Qaeda’s military doctrine the network is likely to put a high value on recovering senior members of the organisation who are captured. If Mr bin Laden or any of his top lieutenants is taken alive, some analysts say that al-Qaeda may resort to spectacular kidnappings as a way of bargaining for their freedom.

But despite this gloomy prognosis, the successes scored by western governments—both on the Afghan battlefield and in the police stations and courtrooms of Europe—are still significant blows to the network’s interests. By decapitating its leadership and unpicking at least part of its network, western governments may be able to neutralise, temporarily, the phenomenon of Islamist terror and fend off some horrors that might otherwise have occurred. It may be harder to persuade impatient electorates that even when that task has been accomplished, the struggle against terrorism must go on.



War on Terror: Is Iraq Next?
Where should Mr Bush put his chips now?
Nov 22nd 2001
The Economist Global Agenda

American politicians are arguing about what “phase two” of the war on terror should be

“AFGHANISTAN is just the beginning of the war against terror,” George Bush declared to a roaring crowd of soldiers on November 21st. “There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all of these threats are defeated. Across the world, and across the years, we will fight these evil ones, and we will win.” Mr Bush seemed determined to quash the idea that America would be content to declare victory in Afghanistan, or over al-Qaeda once Osama bin Laden is caught or killed, and then hope that things would return to normal.

But how will America translate this rhetoric into policy? After its victory in the Gulf war in 1991, the first Bush administration plunked down the political capital it won in the Muslim world on an effort to restart the Arab-Israeli peace process. It convened the Madrid conference that, ten years and many convolutions later, collapsed last year at Camp David.

With victory at hand against the Taliban (though not quite yet, it seems, against al-Qaeda), the second Bush administration also finds itself with capital to spend in the region—capital that comes from the display of American military might and impressive political resolution. And Bush II seems, on the face of it, to be trying to repeat the history of Bush I.

On November 19th, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, committed America to restarting the peace process yet again. He appointed a new envoy to negotiate a ceasefire, Anthony Zinni, a former general (like Mr Powell). And he restated America’s backing for final-status talks on a Palestinian state.

So “phase two” of Mr Bush’s war is the Middle-Eastern peace process? Not if the so-called neo-conservatives have anything to do with it. “Phase two,” writes Tom Donnelly, in the Weekly Standard, “is a euphemism for Iraq. As the campaign in Afghanistan has progressed, a consensus has emerged that it is high time to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

That may be a slight exaggeration. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence and the man who in the past has argued most forcibly for Saddam’s overthrow, has been cautious, arguing that “Saddam Hussein is one of [a number of leaders supporting terrorism] but not the only one.” At a conference in Geneva, John Bolton, the under-secretary of state for arms control, took the unusual step of naming Iraq for illegally building biological weapons—but he named five other countries, too.

This more guarded language is very similar to that used by some Democrats. For example, Senator Joseph Lieberman has argued that “[Saddam] has got the means—chemical, biological, working on nuclear—and the motive. He will do us terrible damage unless we do him out of power.”

The idea that Iraq is the logical phase two is usually associated with the Pentagon; and supposed to be anathema at the State Department. But that view may be wrong. On November 7th, Mr Powell said this: “Nations such as Iraq, which have tried to possess weapons of mass destruction, should not think that we will not be concerned about those activities and will not turn our attention to them.” The State Department has also been quietly forging closer political ties with exiled Iraqi military officers.

Encouraging the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and attacking Iraq are not necessarily alternatives. Arguably, they could complement one another: Arab support for the peace process could mitigate the regimes’ likely (public) hostility to an attack on an Arab state. But the chances are surely that most Arab leaders would shun any American-led peace effort, at least while war was being waged. So the administration would have to assume that attacking Iraq would hamper efforts to find a settlement between Israel and Palestine.

Phase two incarnate

The real question, then, is should America try to overthrow Saddam Hussein? The political dynamic appears to be in favour. Politicians of all stripes support the idea. Almost all the pressure in America during the war on Afghanistan was for more force, not less. One poll, for example, found that nearly as many people thought the attacks on the Taliban were not strong enough (41%) as thought they were about right (47%). That suggests the public could be receptive to arguments in favour of a second front. And there is a political consensus that Saddam is not merely, in the words of Condoleezza Rice, “a bad actor”, but a possible threat to national security.

Yet those who have to think about how in practice to remove the beast from Baghdad are much more sceptical. Career diplomats might be thought congenitally incapable of planning a war against anyone. But both the CIA and the generals (including Mr Zinni, Mr Powell’s envoy) are also notably unenthusiastic desert warriors. The reason for this divide is that the two groups, politicians on the one hand, planners and diplomats on the other, have drawn different conclusions from the war in Afghanistan.

For the “remove Saddam” crowd, the lesson is that a repressive power, however strong it may look, will crumble under American bombing and popular resentment. American military backing transformed a rabble on horseback into an effective fighting force. And the lesson from the attacks on September 11th is also clear. If your sworn enemy can launch massive strikes against you, he will. As Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon’s defence policy board, puts it, “I would hate to see us having this debate after another terrible attack on America.”

Wolfowitz, scourge of Saddam

The diplomats and planners, on the other hand, argue that the Iraqi opposition, especially the main organisation, the Iraqi National Congress, cannot be compared to the Northern Alliance. They have no military bases to operate from. They are not supported by any neighbouring power. And they are likely to be no more successful at gaining support from the dominant Sunnis than the Northern Alliance was in winning Pushtun support.

And the pragmatists also dispute the lesson from September 11th. Unlike Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein has a return address and can be deterred from using weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the planners and generals fear that an attack on Iraq would increase the chance that these weapons might be used—by Saddam himself or by al-Qaeda, if he gave them the arms as a last resort.

Mr Bush is the only person who can resolve this disagreement. For the moment he is rightly focused on the unfinished business in Afghanistan. The fact that no decision has yet been made may even explain why some people in the administration feel comfortable about making general warning noises to Saddam.

One possible next step might be to demand the immediate return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq, with far more intrusive powers, in return for a change in the sanctions regime. This would have the advantage of mollifying some of America’s European allies, notably Britain, which proposed this idea and which is opposed to attacking Iraq. But what if Saddam rejected the demand? Or accepted it and sought to hoodwink the inspectors? In so far as Mr Bush’s views can be discerned, they would appear to lean slightly towards trying to remove Saddam. This week Ms Rice, his national security adviser and weathervane of presidential opinion, said: “The world would clearly be better off, and the Iraqi people would be better off, if Saddam Hussein were not in power in Iraq. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.” Indeed not. But there is plenty of doubt about how to do it, and what the risks are. And the time for deciding whether to run those risks cannot be far off.