AFGHANISTAN: Ever-expanding war?

Issue 

BY SEAN HEALY

The United States has given its clearest hints yet that the "war on terrorism" will extend to many more targets than Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban and many more countries than Afghanistan.

In the first days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, Bush administration officials warned that many countries could be caught up in the retaliatory wave, but then backed off from such dire warnings when it sought to put together its coalition against the Taliban.

Now, with the bombing well underway, the theatre of operations again seems to be expanding.

On October 9, the United States' ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, said in a letter to the UN Security Council that the world's only remaining superpower "may find that our self-defence requires further actions with respect to other organisations and other states".

Most have interpreted the letter as a threat to Iraq, and its ruler Saddam Hussein, which has been in the US's sights since the 1991 Gulf War.

The letter caused consternation even amongst backers of the US's "war on terrorism", with some states in the Middle East and UN secretary-general Kofi Annan expressing "concern" about its implications.

The White House sought to play down the letter, saying it was just a routine notification that it was contemplating self-defence actions under Article 51 of the UN's charter. But UN officials said there was no such requirement to notify.

In the first practical extension of the war beyond Afghanistan, officials in the Philippines announced on October 10 that the United States was sending military officers to train and equip local forces to fight the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

The Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic fundamentalist group, is blamed for a spate of kidnappings and killings in the country's south and is listed on the US State Department's official list of terrorist organisations. US officials allege that it has ties to Osama Bin Laden's network.

The US troops will reportedly play no direct combat role, remaining advisors only.

But US anti-terrorist rhetoric stretches much further than Islamic fundamentalist groups.

On October 4, US officials in the Central American nation of Nicaragua warned that the left-wing Sandinistas, poised to win the country's November presidential elections, were also linked to groups which "support terrorism".

State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said, "we have serious concerns about the Sandinistas' history ... of confiscating properties without compensation, destroying the economy and maintaining links with those who support terrorism".

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