The Cole Bombing... Moving Beyond "The Usual Suspects"


The Cole Bombing... Moving Beyond "The Usual Suspects"

Dec 1st, 2000 3 min read
James Phillips

Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation

James Phillips is a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation.
There have been several arrests, but U.S. officials still don't know who bears ultimate responsibility for the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

Oh, there are the usual suspects: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan.

But the fact that there's such a thing as "the usual suspects" when it comes to terrorism just goes to show America must develop a more sensible way to fight it.

By all accounts, the Oct. 12 bombing appears to be the work of the loose terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden, an exiled Saudi now based in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden is known to have followers in Yemen and has launched terrorist operations there in the past. Worse, he may have had Iraqi government support.

The sophisticated nature of the bomb--which was placed within a metal container to channel the blast into the Cole's hull--suggests state involvement.

Iraqi officials are known to have made contact with bin Laden in Afghanistan, and Iraq has used terrorists-for-hire in the past. Saddam Hussein shares bin Laden's goal of expelling American forces from the Arabian peninsula, and the Cole was bound for the Persian Gulf to help maintain the naval blockade of Iraq.

Iran may also have played a supporting role in the Cole bombing. Like Iraq, it has long supported terrorist groups operating against the United States and seeks to expel U.S. forces from the Persian Gulf region.

Bin Laden is known to have entered into an agreement with radical regimes in Iran and Sudan to work together against the United States, Israel and the West.

And bin Laden has sent some of his followers to Lebanon for bomb- making training from the Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian terrorist group.

In fact, one of bin Laden's associates, a terrorist who pled guilty on Oct. 20 to the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, has linked bin Laden with Hezbollah's terrorist chief, Imad Mughniyah.

This means Iran may be cooperating with bin Laden's terrorist network by using the Lebanon-based Hezbollah as an intermediary.

Finally, the radical Taliban regime in Afghanistan has cooperated with bin Laden and even given him sanctuary, because bin Laden joined the Afghan jihad, or "holy war," against the Soviet army after moving to Afghanistan in 1984.

He enjoys close relations with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who reportedly has married one of bin Laden's daughters. The Taliban's support for bin Laden led the United Nations to impose economic sanctions on Afghanistan last year.

But the Clinton administration has largely failed to penalize the Taliban regime for its support of terrorism and has yet to persuade officials to turn over bin Laden.

Yes, a U.S. cruise missile attack in August 1998 on bin Laden's camp in eastern Afghanistan destroyed a few easily replaced facilities and killed a score of Islamic militants from Pakistan and Kashmir.

But this "chuck and duck" policy has helped the Taliban by alienating Afghans from their former American ally, including many who oppose the Taliban's harsh rule.

To effectively punish the Afghan government for supporting bin Laden, the next administration should support the opposition forces fighting to replace the Taliban with a government that doesn't export terrorism, Islamic revolution and illegal drugs.

Washington should build an anti-Taliban coalition that embraces all the states that have suffered attacks from Muslim militants supported by the Taliban. These states include Russia, China, India and Afghanistan's northern neighbors Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Bin Laden's brand of Islamic terrorism is like a virus that has been incubated in the Afghan jihad. To fight it, the United States needs to destroy the incubator--the Taliban regime.

If Iraq and Iran also are found to be implicated in the Cole bombing, the United States should redouble its efforts to work with opposition forces inside those countries to oust hostile regimes.

It should also seriously consider retaliating with American forces. U.S. officials are trying to hunt down the culprits behind the Cole bombing and bring them to justice.

But they should look beyond the terrorist pawns deployed by bin Laden and take action against the states that support him--the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and possibly Iraq or Iran.

The United States must remove these regimes, not merely contain them. As long as they remain in power, the United States and its allies face a heightened threat, and the "usual suspects" of international terrorism will continue to enjoy a relatively free ride.

James A. Phillips is a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation. A Washington-based public policy institute.

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