Army troops began to move to positions across the Mideast as a massive U.S. military deployment unfolded Thursday in response to the terrorism crisis.
"Our business is to sustain land combat and we are ready to conduct it with all the aspects of our force structure," said Army Secretary Thomas White. Elite Army Ranger troops and other special operations forces who might become involved in counterterrorist operations in Afghanistan or elsewhere "will play a prominent role in any campaign that we conduct going forward," White said.
Headed to Persian Gulf
The Pentagon declined to confirm the destination of the forces, which also include 100 to 130 Air Force warplanes and as many as three aircraft carrier battle groups with a total of 225 Navy warplanes.
Senior defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the key destinations are friendly countries in the Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Those two former Soviet republics border Afghanistan, the purported hide-out of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
"We are trying to get ourselves arranged in the world, with our forces, in places that we believe conceivably could be useful in the event the president decided to use them," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. He refused to provide details of the deployments and indicated that media restrictions on this military operation will be much tighter than in the past.
It will be at least a week before the first of the reinforcements, joining some 20,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines routinely stationed in the Persian Gulf region, would be ready for battle, though some air strike options could be exercised before then. And Pentagon officials indicate they have not settled on a single strategic or tactical plan. The deployments are designed to provide President Bush with as many military options as possible.
The immediate objective is to intimidate nations that sponsor terrorism so they will act against the groups operating within their borders. If the pressure does not persuade Afghanistan's ruling Taliban to hand over bin Laden, then U.S. and allied special forces could launch "snatch-and-grab" missions to apprehend him along with his key lieutenants--a mission that military experts agree would be highly risky.
Taliban ruling rejected
The Bush administration on Thursday flatly rejected a ruling by Afghani clerics recommending that bin Laden voluntarily leave the country. The U.S. insisted bin Laden be surrendered.
Less clear is the administration's longer-term goal in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that left more than 6,700 people dead or missing. Statements by senior administration officials suggest the lack of a settled objective for what Bush says will be a sustained and lengthy war on terrorism.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has described success as "no more attacks like this or of any other nature against the United States or our interests around the world." On another occasion, Powell said the war on terrorism wouldn't end until the U.S. has penetrated the global terrorist network arrayed against the U.S., "neutralized it and destroyed it."
Rumsfeld, speaking at the Pentagon, said a more broadly defined goal may be required for a war that won't pit one army against another with an obvious beginning, middle and end. Indeed, he made clear that Americans may need to prepare for a struggle that has no visible end.
"We're unlikely to be successful in changing the nature of human beings," Rumsfeld said. "I think what you can try to do is to go after this worldwide problem in a way that we can continue our way of life."
Rumsfeld defined victory as "persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter that's going to be over in a month or a year or even five years."
While administration officials disagree on the appropriate level of military force and the countries and targets ripe for attack, Rumsfeld and Powell say the war on terrorism must unfold on multiple fronts, including economic, diplomatic and law-enforcement strikes, as well as military moves.
At the State Department on Thursday, Powell and Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, president of the European Union, agreed on a variety of means the EU will employ. They include improved law-enforcement cooperation and improved visa, immigration and export controls.
Name change for operation
The Bush administration initially gave the title "Operation Infinite Justice" to the troop deployments. But the Pentagon was considering alternatives Thursday after Islamic countries and groups raised objections. In Islam, infinite justice is something only Allah can provide.
The concern over a detail such as the title for a military deployment underscored the diplomatic sensitivity confronted by the administration as it tries to enlist as many Islamic countries as possible in the anti-terrorism fight.
Uzbeks, Tajiks onboard
In a diplomatic coup for Washington, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan--both Muslim countries--have agreed to allow U.S. forces to operate in their territories for missions in neighboring Afghanistan. The Central Asian countries border the northern region of Afghanistan that is the base for existing anti-Taliban forces.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said negotiations with Uzbek and Tajik officials are continuing as to what kinds of forces could be based in those countries. The state of airfields in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan appears to rule out major combat air operations from those countries, the official said. But intelligence, communications and logistical support missions could be run from there.
"They don't have the infrastructure," the official said. Nor, he said, would their leaders likely discuss in public details beyond a general show of support for the U.S.