11 September 2001>News Stories>Unpolished Secret Agents Were Able to Hide in Plain Sight

Unpolished Secret Agents Were Able to Hide in Plain Sight
Patrick E Tyler . NYTimes . 23 September

GEARING UP An F-18 fighter landing aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt as it steamed toward an undisclosed location.

As the Bush administration contemplates military strikes in Afghanistan, some officials fear that too strong a blow could create a dangerous opportunity for Afghanistan's powerful neighbors to compete, even clash, over control of the territory.

Senior administration officials have singled out the ruling Taliban for harboring the terrorist camps used by Osama bin Laden and his network. Both the Taliban itself and the bin Laden forces are likely to be targets of eventual American military action, and there is strong political support in Washington for such a move.

But the officials and some analysts warn that if Afghanistan is decapitated, Mr. Bush may have to confront the war-induced miseries of 26 million Afghans and a flood of refugees. That, in turn, poses the broader danger of inviting powerful neighbors like Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan to defend their interests by moving into the vacuum, these people say.

Andrei Kozyrev, the former Russian foreign minister who negotiated with Afghanistan's Islamic militants in the early 1990's, warned in an interview that the United States could cause violence to spread to Central Asia if the military campaign was not accompanied by diplomacy and reconstruction aid.

Afghans camp near the largely unpatroled border with Tajikistan. Tajik leaders have said they will not allow Afghan refugees into the country.

"Don't forget that these terrorists live right next door to us and to Tajikistan," he said, "and there is nothing like a controlled border. So it is important that you wage war not only militarily."

What comes next for Afghanistan, a devastated country that is not only a source of Islamic revolutionaries, but also exports a heroin plague to Russia and much of Europe, could depend on whether there is a sustained American leadership and large amounts of foreign aid, a number of specialists say.

Mr. Bush and his senior advisers are still debating where the campaign goes after the initial assault in Afghanistan, officials in the White House, Pentagon and State Department said on Friday. In other words, the scale of the war will not be decided in advance.

The administration may simply be unable to define the scope under the doctrine that Mr. Bush articulated in his speech to Congress: "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor and support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."

At some point the administration may have to decide whether to conduct operations against Iran, Iraq, Syria and other nations that are believed to be harboring terrorists.

A senior White House official expressed the view that some hard-line governments might "turn over a new leaf" after witnessing the coming display of American military power.

But for many specialists it is hard to imagine that Saddam Hussein of Iraq, the ayatollahs of Iran or the Assad dynasty in Syria all steeled by decades of war and terrorism will respond to any American campaign that does not address their grievances and insecurities.

If diplomacy is not a focus of Mr. Bush's campaign, he may lose the opportunity to test how receptive Iran's leaders might be to discuss a new relationship with the West. The British prime minister, Tony Blair, expressed interest in this overture this week after talking twice to President Mohammad Khatami. Iran, with a 560-mile border with Afghanistan, could be of great help in stemming the flow of drugs and terrorism from Afghanistan, experts say.

For some of the European allies whom Mr. Bush hopes to commit to his cause, failure to spell out the scale of the antiterror campaign will create substantial risks.

"These allies are going to want to know how far we are going and they won't want to discover halfway in that we are going to do a lot more," said Peter Tarnoff, under secretary of state for political affairs in the Clinton administration.

He said it would be hard for the administration to make the case for waging war on the Taliban because that could mean destruction "inflicted on such a destitute country."

Whatever military strategy Mr. Bush unveils, the time is coming for greater detail, Mr. Tarnoff said. "If the edge of the spear is pointing at Afghanistan in coming days," he said, "this is where the president has got to share the evidence and explain to all potential partners the scope and the rationale of any military action."

But as America gathers new allies and bolsters old ones, there will be a price billions in loans and aid for Pakistan, a possible rescue plan for Turkey and the enormous cost of a military deployment to the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia.

A decade ago when Mr. Bush's father faced Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Japan footed most of the bill, paying more than $100 billion among them. But nothing is certain about how this war will be financed if it expands to Syria, Iran or Iraq, as prominent conservatives advocate, or to other nations that fail to respond to Mr. Bush's ultimatum to give up their terrorists, administration officials said.

In defining America's new enemy, Mr. Bush did not speak to the issues that many European and Middle Eastern allies hoped that he would.

They believe that an extended military and police assault on terrorism will succeed only if the United States returns energetically to a leadership role in finding solutions to the conflicts that have incited hate and terror: the Arab-Israeli dispute, the conflict in Kashmir that risks war between Pakistan and India and the problems of Afghanistan under the Taliban, whose leadership rose from the anarchy that followed American diplomatic withdrawal from the region.

At the State Department this week, the focus weighed heavily toward military planning. A senior official explained, "If you look at those terrorist groups that are very wont to challenge U.S. interests around the world" including Hezbollah radicals in Lebanon and Hamas among the Palestinians "that ought to give" the picture of the target list after Afghanistan.