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Wall St Worried That Bush Terror War Spinning Out of Control

by Jim Lobe

Promise to help "governments everywhere" fight terrorism
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Even the business press is beginning to grow nervous about the U.S. administration's pursuit of counter-terrorism.

"Is Washington Fighting Terrorism on Too Many Fronts?" asked a headline in the most recent issue of Business Week magazine.

"The Bush Administration is now combating terrorism on fronts in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Even the globe's sole superpower needs to be careful not to overreach," the article concluded. It failed to mention Washington's plans to ramp up its military involvement in Colombia.

In an editorial entitled "The Clear and Present Danger," the Financial Times newspaper warned Mar. 19 that victory in Afghanistan itself remained some ways off and that Washington needed to concentrate its efforts there for now "rather than allowing its efforts to be diffused in too many theatres of war."

Even as Vice President Dick Cheney toured the Middle East to prepare U.S. allies there for a new military campaign against Iraq, Washington was busy deploying troops and military advisers in an ever-expanding quest to defeat terrorism around the world.

"I have set a clear policy in the second stage of the war on terror," President George W. Bush said last week on the six-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. "America encourages and expects governments everywhere to help remove the terrorist parasites that threaten their countries and peace of the world. If governments need training or resources to meet this commitment, America will help."

Since Sept. 11, Washington has promised or provided new military aid in the form of training or equipment to dozens of countries only a few of which face a credible external threat, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan the Philippines, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen, not to mention Afghanistan where it intends to build a national army.

Last week's promise -- to help "governments everywhere" fight terrorism -- is fueling still-whispered concerns that Washington is well on its way to what Yale University historian Paul Kennedy once referred to as "imperial overstretch."

The urgent dispatch of some 1,700 combat-ready British troops to Afghanistan in the wake of what the U.S. commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, called "an unqualified and absolute success" in Operation Anaconda has only served to raise new doubts about the decisiveness of the two-week battle. Afghan commanders insisted that most of the al-Qaeda troops supposedly trapped there had escaped, presumably to fight another day.

The reported engagement of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) advisers on a "training mission" in fighting with Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on Basilan island in the southern Philippines brought home the reality of risks in that battle against what most observers describe as a small band of no more than 100 bandits.

Peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with 15,000 men under arms in the same region where Abu Sayyaf is active, have been effectively suspended amid charges by Manila's brass that the Front is a "terrorist" group with close ties to al-Qaeda.

A contingent of 200 SOF trainers is en route to Georgia to train and equip four anti-terrorist battalions to bring the unruly Pankisi Gorge, a haven for Chechen rebels and armed Islamist militants --- including, so the administration has said, al-Qaeda and Taliban forces who have fled Afghanistan.

With embattled Chechnya just over the mountains from the Gorge, as well as at least two other major insurgencies in Georgia, the question that bothers analysts here is whether Washington could become entangled in any of these larger struggles, or even in neighboring Azerbaijan, to which the administration has also promised anti-terrorism assistance despite its still-unresolved conflict with Armenia and rising tensions with Iran over Caspian Sea oil claims.

In Kyrgyzstan, where Washington is not only providing military training and equipment but is also building a major air base, an opposition protest week ended in the deaths of 13 people and the destruction of several government buildings in a remote village where an opposition leader was being held on corruption charges.

The violence marked a first for Kyrgyzstan since its independence 10 years ago and followed a lengthy period in which increasingly authoritarian President Askar Akayev has moved against opposition figures and reduced basic freedoms. This process has accelerated since Sept. 11, according to analysts here.

In Yemen, where Washington plans to send some 100 military advisers to help the army assert control over heavily armed tribal areas that have always resisted central control, a U.S. military plane carrying visiting Vice President Dick Cheney resorted to evasive maneuvers to land at the capital for a quick, two-hour visit with President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"A show of nervousness" is how New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof described Cheney's arrival in a country to which Washington hopes to help bring order. "(S)ending American soldiers to places like Yemen, where the great majority of people seem to oppose their arrival, raises precisely the problems of over-deployment that President Bush complained about during his campaign," Kristof noted.

Last weekend's lethal attack on a church in Islamabad, Pakistan, in which two U.S. citizens were killed, raised new and disturbing questions not only about the authority and security of Pakistan's military leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf -- perhaps the single most important regional leader in Washington's war on terrorism to date -- but also on the next phase in the war itself.

Both U.S. and Pakistani analysts agree the weekend attack -- coming so soon after the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, presumably by al-Qaeda sympathizers -- was aimed both against Washington and Musharraf. They also report that many Pakistani militants who fought for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan have returned home and are regrouping.

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Albion Monitor March 19, 2002 (

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