Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Welcome victory in the war on terror

By Con Coughlin 12:01am GMT 10/01/2007 UK Independent When it comes to prosecuting the worldwide campaign against al-Qa'eda, whether it is in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan or the inhospitable desert terrain of Somalia, the most important virtue a commander can possess is patience.Tracking an elusive enemy such as Osama bin Laden's terror organisation is no easy task. While al-Qa'eda's main priority is to carry out spectacular terror attacks such as the September 11 bombings or the 1998 deadly suicide bomb attacks against the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the organisation invests just as much effort in ensuring that its key operatives escape detection.This would explain why, after five years of unstinting effort by the US-led military coalition across a truly global stage, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the main pillars of the al-Qa'eda leadership, remain at large, as do many of those responsible for many of the other atrocities that have been committed in the name of militant Islam, whether in Africa or London.But just because the foe remains elusive does not mean that the pursuer should lose hope. In the ever-shifting battleground that is the global war on terror, rare moments of opportunity appear when the foe is suddenly forced to break cover and make a run for it. That is when the canny commander moves in for the kill, using his overwhelming military superiority to ensure the enemy has no means of escape. Given the remoteness of the target attacked on Sunday by a US Special Forces AC-130 gunship, it could be several weeks before American commanders will be able to confirm the casualty account from Sunday's surgical strike. But having waited nearly five years for an opportunity to target the most deadly al-Qa'eda terror cell operating on the African continent, American commanders were last night quietly confident that they had struck a major blow against the organisation's operational effectiveness."We have been waiting for a moment like this for a long time," said an officer working with the American military's Joint Combined Task Force in the Horn of Africa, which is based at Djibouti. "We've been tracking these guys for years. So when you get a break like we did on Sunday, you've got to move fast and fierce." Which is what the AC-130, with its 105mm rapid-fire cannons, achieved when it attacked a convoy of al-Qa'eda remnants that was spotted fleeing to southern Somalia after being ejected from Mogadishu by the Ethiopian army.Initial reports suggest that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the mastermind of the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassy bombings, was killed in the raid, together with several other key al-Qa'eda figures. But more importantly for the Americans, and all those other countries, such as Britain, that are deeply involved in the global terror war, the very fact that al-Qa'eda terrorists and their Somali allies have been forced to undertake a hasty retreat from the Somali capital represents a significant victory in the coalition's attempts to keep the curse of militant Islam at bay.At the end of last year, it looked as if Somalia had every chance of going the same way as Afghanistan under the Taliban in the late 1990s, with a group of radical Muslim clerics threatening to overthrow the legitimate government, take over the entire country and subject it to a brutal interpretation of sharia law. Irrespective of whether the Union of Islamic Courts, which briefly seized control of Mogadishu at the end of last year, is affiliated with bin Laden's organisation, it made no secret of the fact that it was providing succour to a number of key al-Qa'eda operatives – including Mohammed – who were wanted by the Americans for the Kenya and Tanzania attacks, as well as an abortive attempt in 2002 to shoot down an Israeli jet taking off from the Kenyan tourist resort of Mombasa. The prospect of a radical, pro-al-Qa'eda, Islamic state being established in east Africa was the nightmare scenario that American commanders had sought to avoid ever since they established their 2,500-strong foothold in the Horn of Africa in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. But how to prevent this from happening was another matter entirely. The American military's consciousness still bears the scars of its last attempt at military intervention in Somalia, in October 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed after a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down during a gun battle with Somali militiamen (bin Laden himself claimed credit for teaching the Somalis how to shoot down a helicopter).On this occasion, however, American blushes have been spared by the impressive job that the Ethiopian armed forces – which are trained and equipped by Washington – have achieved in driving the Islamic Courts out of Mogadishu and restoring some semblance of stability to what is arguably the world's most lawless city. Most Africans, like most Americans, are deeply inimical to the creation of pro-al-Qa'eda, Islamic fundamentalist regimes that pose a threat to their security and liberty.Consequently, a rare combination of African steadfastness and raw American power has won an important victory on this new battlefront in the war on terror, thereby frustrating attempts by Islamic militants to seize control of a strategically important country, and denying refuge to the instigators and perpetrators of acts of evil.Sunday's events in Somalia lend credence to the warning the late President Ronald Reagan gave a previous generation of Islamic terrorists: you can run, but you can't hide.

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