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BY TOM MITSOFF
Our enemy now has a name.
And it's not Osama bin Ladin.
Vice President Dick Cheney told the nation Sunday morning, during his appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," that the United States is focused upon the international terrorist organization known as Al-Qaida. Bin Ladin is the founder of the organization, and therefore is certainly a target of the inevitable United States military response to last week's atrocities.
But as with any nation, religion or ideology - all terms which can be used to describe the Al-Qaida organization - it cannot be defeated by merely defeating one man or individual. There are many who share bin Ladin's beliefs and - as we discovered last week - to the extent that they were and are willing to give their lives for the cause. In that respect, they are no less passionate for their "nation," religion or ideology than are Americans.
According to the U.S. State Department publication, "Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000," bin Ladin established Al-Qaida in the late 1980s to bring together Arabs who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. Its current goal, however, is to work with allied Islamic extremist groups to overthrow regimes it deems "non-Islamic" and expel Westerners and non-Muslims from Muslim countries.
In February 1998, it issued a statement under banner of "the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders," saying it was the duty of all Muslims to kill U.S. citizens - civilian or military - and their allies everywhere.
In August 1998, Al-Qaida conducted the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed at least 301 persons and injured more than 5,000 others, according to the state department publication. Al-Qaida is also linked to the following plans that were not carried out: to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his visit to Manila in late 1994, simultaneous bombings of the U.S. and Israeli Embassies in Manila and other Asian capitals in late 1994, the midair bombing of a dozen U.S. trans-Pacific flights in 1995, and to kill President Clinton during a visit to the Philippines in early 1995.
Al-Qaida continues to train, finance, and provide logistic support to terrorist groups in support of these goals, and may have several hundred to several thousand members, the state department reported. It also serves as a focal point or umbrella organization for a worldwide network that includes many Islamic extremist groups.
Al-Qaida has a worldwide reach, has cells in a number of countries, and is reinforced by its ties to extremist networks, the state department reported. Bin Ladin and his key lieutenants reside in Afghanistan, and the group maintains terrorist training camps there.
It now becomes clearer as to why President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others, have told the American public to expect a prolonged and sustained military initiative. Afghanistan is the obvious geographic target, and we have all heard how desolate and difficult it is for foreign military forces to perform effectively there. Just ask the Soviets.
If the United States does capture or deal with bin Ladin, there is sure to be some national swell of pride, vengeance and victory. However, another nation will be plotting its own response - the nation of Al-Qaida. President Bush and Vice President Cheney are trying to warn us that the war against Al-Qaida will extend into several countries and could extend for many months or even years.
We are forced as a nation to defend ourselves against an enemy that has proven itself capable of killing thousands of our citizens and destroying 110-story buildings. When at war, our objective must be to eliminate the threat. What we must hope for the interests of all concerned is that the enemy will surrender, but that is unlikely.
We must eliminate or neutralize the world's most organized terrorist organization, Al-Qaida, in order to resume our way of life and freedom to live our lives without looking over our collective shoulders.
Going after bin Ladin alone will not be enough. Be prepared for a conflict that could involve numerous nations, years and lives.
This editorial was written Sept. 16, 2001, and published in several print and web publications across the country.
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