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Analysts See US War on Terror Succeeding - 2002-03-11

The war on terrorism is succeeding beyond expectations, say two analysts with military and anti-terrorist experience. But they say uncertainties lie ahead, and the will of Americans is vital to continued success.

American support for the war on terrorism remains strong, according to a survey by the Washington Post and ABC News. It has not weakened because of recent U.S. casualties in eastern Afghanistan.

That does not surprise Milt Bearden, former CIA chief in Pakistan, who compares U.S. losses in the current battle with those of the Soviets in the same area during their losing war in Afghanistan.

"The American media has absolutely hyperventilated over the casualties we took last week," he said. "Each and every one of them is a great personal tragedy, but we are talking about the same piece of real estate where the Soviets lost 400 or 500 in a day."

Several hundred of the enemy have been killed in the current battle compared to a dozen Americans, notes Ralph Peters, a retired military officer with long experience in the third world.

Even so, he says no one was sure how Americans would react.

"I think the military was holding its breath because it had such negative experiences under President Clinton. But Bush weathered the test," he said. "He did not over-react to casualties. He did not come out with maudlin public statements. He treated it quietly and respectfully. He did not flinch, and the American people did not flinch in the least."

That attitude must endure, says Mr. Peters, because it will take a long time to fix a broken country. Like it or not, the United States is committed to nation building in Afghanistan.

Mr. Bearden says the United States cannot desert Afghanistan, as it did after the Soviet withdrawal.

"The picture that comes to mind is how unseemly would it appear if the President of the United States has Hamid Karzai in his box at the very intense moment of his address to the nation on the 21st of January and then to turn and walk away from Afghanistan," he said. "It is just not going to happen, and nobody who is working this problem in the administration believes that."

Success in Afghanistan, says Mr. Peters, encourages Washington to pursue terrorism elsewhere, especially in Iraq. Slowly but surely, President Bush is getting ready.

"He is doing some intelligent saber rattling right now," he said. "He is preparing not only the nation, but the world and our forces for an eventual campaign against Iraq. The administration is going to keep repeating this and repeating this until over the months and perhaps over a year or two our allies, clients, and even our enemies accept the fact that it is a given. It is going to happen."

Not so fast, cautions Mr. Bearden. The war in Afghanistan is far from over, contrary to some optimistic expectations. And the Israel-Palestinian conflict continues to enflame the region.

Saddam Hussein is a containable threat, he says. No march on Baghdad is necessary.

Beyond that, assaulting Iraq would shatter the coalition needed for fighting global terrorism and the United States cannot continue the battle alone.

"Somebody from the typical American mold is not going to penetrate a terrorist cell that has four cousins and three brothers involved," he said. "You are going to have to get somebody who looks like them, thinks like them, and acts like them to get into those cells or at least to know when those cells even exist. And that is going to take intelligence liaisons with a lot of other countries."

Mr. Bearden says the terrorist attack on America occurred because of a breakdown in global, as well as U.S. intelligence. That vital information system must be rebuilt to prevent another such attack.