December 1, 2000
By James Phillips
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Phillips is a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation. A
Washington-based public policy institute.
Distributed nationally by Bridge News
The Cole Bombing... Moving Beyond "The Usual Suspects"
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