Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S.: Analysts Say Military Occupation Not An Option In Terror War

U.S. President George W. Bush says it will take time for America's armed forces to destroy the terrorists who attacked New York and Washington on 11 September. But what must Washington do to ensure that the terrorists do not return to the countries they use as havens? RFE/RL senior correspondent Andrew F. Tully discussed America's options with security analysts, and filed this report.

Washington, 18 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. says it wants to root out international terrorism, in part by making sure that no country can harbor groups like those run by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.

But if U.S. forces destroy bin Laden's bases in Afghanistan, and rout the Taliban militia that controls most of the country, what is to prevent other groups from resuming his work later?

After World War II, America and its allies occupied Japan and Germany, guiding their peoples to establish nations that are now major democratic presences in the world. Can the same be done in Afghanistan? And could it be done in Iraq, if it, too, is found to be complicit in these recent acts of terror?

No, according to national security analysts interviewed by RFE/RL.

Peter Raven-Hansen, a professor of international politics at George Washington University in Washington, says there are many things the U.S. can do short of occupying a country like Afghanistan. They include constant military overflights, requiring the country to legislate a strict extradition treaty with the U.S. regarding terrorists, and posting American security personnel at their borders.

So far, Raven-Hansen says, the U.S. appears to have accomplished much without firing a single shot by persuading Pakistan -- Afghanistan's neighbor and supporter -- to cooperate with the American anti-terrorism effort. It has even sent a delegation to Afghanistan to deliver Washington's ultimatum that the Taliban surrender bin Laden.

This turnaround by Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, is stunning. But Raven-Hansen stresses that the only evidence that Musharraf has changed his policy toward the Taliban are his statements. He said it remains to be seen whether the Pakistani president will follow through with concrete actions.

Some news accounts say the U.S. did not ask for Pakistan's cooperation, but simply told it to cooperate or face crushing economic consequences. While many Americans applaud such a determined show of force, Raven-Hansen says Washington must be careful not to press its luck with Musharraf.

Raven-Hansen notes that most Pakistanis support the Taliban, and that Musharraf could be overthrown if he shifts the country's policy too much. And, he points out, any new regime in Pakistan angry about the U.S. policy in the region would have nuclear weapons at its disposal.

"We're treading a very delicate line in pushing a country like that too hard. And we'd also be making a terrible mistake accepting their rhetoric as a commitment."

Kenneth Allard, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, agrees that occupying Afghanistan is not an option for American armed forces. Military occupation is an enormous drain in any country, and would be even worse in a rugged, mountainous nation like Afghanistan, according to Allard, now an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy institute.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Allard noted that previous attempts to occupy Afghanistan proved disastrous.

"There is no conceivable reason to go to [occupy] Afghanistan unless you are encouraged by the example of either the Russians [Soviet Union] or Alexander the Great."

Instead, Allard says the U.S. could successfully follow the example of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1795, the young Napoleon helped to put down a revolt by firing cannons into a pro-royalist mob. This "whiff of grapeshot [cannon ammunition]," as Napoleon put it, showed Frenchmen that its army would not tolerate revolts -- and it succeeded.

Allard says that by dealing forcefully with the Taliban, the U.S. can give this "whiff of grapeshot" to other nations that are harboring terrorists. This will show them that they must surrender or at least expel the terrorists or face American military wrath.

But Allard says Iraq may be a different story. He notes that Washington can probably find evidence linking the government of President Saddam Hussein to the 11 September acts of terror in the U.S. And even if it cannot, Saddam's other links to terrorism make him fair game.

"You find a country so obnoxious, or its government so obnoxious, that you have no choice but to go in and occupy it. I mean, that happened in World War II, and I think that the results from history have shown that that was an appropriate thing for us to do."

Raven-Hansen, of George Washington University, agrees. He says that if Iraq, for instance, can be found to have supported other acts of terrorism against Americans, then the U.S. should feel entitled to take military action against it.

Ted Galen Carpenter is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, an independent policy group in Washington. He says he is concerned about statements by Bush and other government officials that the war against terrorism will be long.

He says it would be unwise for the U.S. to try to occupy a country like Afghanistan or to mount a protracted military campaign there. He said it could end up mired there the way the Soviet Union did during the 1980s. He said he much prefers the idea of a long campaign consisting of repeated, but short, attacks on the country to finish the job.

"We may end up having to come back with multiple attacks later on against the same targets."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said repeatedly that the goal of this war is to destroy terrorism "root and branch," as he puts it. Carpenter says a better metaphor may be that of a weed: Often a gardener digs a weed from among his flowers and thinks he is rid of it. But too often, a bit of the root remains embedded in the soil, and the gardener must pull at the weed repeatedly.

According to Carpenter, that seems to be the only way to defeat terrorism.