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U.S.: Prevention Regarded As Best Military Response To Terrorism

What can the U.S. military do to avert future terrorist acts against America? Will the U.S. strike back at terrorists? Is America at war? RFE/RL senior correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.

Washington, 13 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A top expert on terrorism says the U.S. military can do little to avert terrorist attacks against America without amassing formidable intelligence resources worldwide. And he predicts the U.S. will hit back at those who were responsible for inflicting the deadliest attack on American soil in modern times.

Mitchell Hammer, co-director of the Center for Crisis Response and Management (CCRM), says the war on terrorism is largely a preventive one. The CCRM is part of the Washington-based American University. Hammer, who has advised the U.S. and foreign governments on terrorism matters, tells RFE/RL:

"[What] the United States probably has to do is to enlarge its human intelligence efforts, human gathering intelligence efforts, to complement its technological ones."

Hammer says the United States is trying not to signal its military intentions because the element of surprise can be decisive in dealing with an adversary.

Speaking at the White House yesterday, President George W. Bush said he would ask Congress for money to help in the recovery and protect America's security in the wake of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Bush said:

"The deliberate and deadly attacks which were carried out yesterday [11 September] against our country were more than acts of terror. They were acts of war."

Bush told his Cabinet and top security advisers that the U.S. would find the perpetrators no matter what it takes. However, the president would need an act of Congress to officially declare war -- and it is not yet clear who and where the enemy is. Bush did not indicate he was asking for an official declaration.

"The American people need to know we are facing a different enemy than we have ever faced. This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life. This is an enemy that prays on innocent an unsuspecting people, and then runs for cover."

Bush spoke as administration officials said privately evidence in the 11 September deadly attacks pointed to suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be harbored in Afghanistan. Bin Laden already faces U.S. indictment for terrorism charges stemming from an earlier incident. At a news conference, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. was certain that Afghanistan's Taliban leaders were harboring bin Laden. However, Powell would not say whether bin Laden is a suspect for these most recent terrorist attacks.

American University's Hammer said:

"I think the range of military options is deliberately being left quite open at this point. And I don't know what the direction of the U.S. response is going to be other than that there will be a response."

Hammer said the U.S. is likely to enlist its NATO partners and others to provide intelligence and military cooperation in tracking down international terrorists.

In a strong show of support, NATO allies declared yesterday that the terrorist attacks in the United States can be considered an attack on the whole alliance if it turns out they were directed from abroad.

Article Five of the NATO charter, designed to respond to a Cold War offensive, declares an "armed attack" on any member to be an attack on all. Hammer said:

"One of the key elements in dealing with this situation is to obtain cooperation and agreement among our partner countries. So that would be the kind of thing the United States would be looking for, the government would be looking for."

In his White House remarks, Bush said terrorists can hide but they won't be able to hide forever. He pledged that the U.S. will use all its resources to prevail. The president promised "a monumental struggle of good versus evil." In the end, he said, "good will prevail."

Meanwhile, the U.S. armed forces have taken a series of measures to prevent further acts. The military was placed on the highest alert status worldwide. Security was tightened around military bases. The U.S. Navy placed ships around New York harbor.

Pointedly, Defense Department officials declined to say what action the military might take. The nation's top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton, would only say that the military was ready and able to carry out any mission ordered by the president.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the U.S. response requires a broad and sustained effort. He also declined to elaborate.

Whatever the military response may be, Hammer said:

"Ninety-nine percent of protection is intelligence -- knowing what's going to happen. And then, appropriate security procedures are in place. They can then respond to that effectively. But without intelligence, I don't think there is a way to adequately protect anybody in any country."

Other experts outside the government said part of the challenge for the U.S. is to recognize the roots of terrorism such as ethnic and religious hatred. And they warned that the U.S. must also be ready to cope with the possibility of even more lethal terrorism such as biological, chemical or nuclear attacks.