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US Manhunt Targets Bin Laden - 2001-10-06

The U.S. anti-terrorist operation now underway often appears to be a hunt for one man: Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in last month's terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, who is believed to be hiding out in Afghanistan. But military-led manhunts have fallen out of favor at the Pentagon.

"Don't come to this country. If you come here, it will be big problem." This anti-American warning might have been recorded in Afghanistan.

But they weren't. Those sounds come from Somalia in 1993, where a U.S. humanitarian mission turned into a military manhunt that was both ill-fated and unsuccessful.

Eighteen U.S. soldiers looking for Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed and his lieutenants were killed in a bloody shoot-out in the streets of Mogadishu. Mr. Aideed was never caught.

Pentagon officials do not see any links between Somalia 1993 and Afghanistan 2001.

But just like the hunt for one Somali warlord, much attention is now focused on killing or capturing one man: Osama bin Laden, identified by the Bush administration as the prime suspect in last month's devastating terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Even President Bush has used manhunt-style terminology.

"I want justice and there's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said 'Wanted: Dead or Alive,'" the president said.

But since Mr. Bush uttered those words during a visit to the Pentagon just days after the September 11 attacks, there has been less rhetoric that singles out any individual.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, while visiting Cairo this past week, told reporters there was no question but that the alleged terrorist mastermind was "a serious problem."

But he also said "the chances of any military action affecting any single terrorist, it seems to me, is modest."

It is an assessment reflected by top U.S. military commanders, who tell reporters privately it would be a terrible mistake to judge the success of anti-terrorist Operation Enduring Freedom on the death or capture of one individual.

These commanders like Mr. Rumsfeld and the president say the focus is much broader: Dismantling terrorist networks, depriving terrorists of the support they need and closing their sanctuaries. It is a long-term mission - one that involves more than just military force.

Mr. Bush puts it this way:

"There'll be battles, but this is long-term. After all, our mission is not just Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organization, our mission is to battle terrorism," he said.

Military commanders acknowledge it is a mission for which conventional forces alone are ill-suited. And despite a massive build-up of U.S. forces around Afghanistan in recent weeks, even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dismisses the notion that military action is inevitable.

Mr. Rumsfeld says it cannot be predicted which event, or which scrap of information, or which potential military activity, or which diplomatic action might turn up information that would lead to the apprehension of a single terrorist.

Instead, he says, the important thing is to put enough pressure on terrorists and those who harbor them to make their lives difficult. He says it may be like the decades-long Cold War, a conflict which the defense secretary notes, ended "not with a bang, but through internal collapse."