Terrorist Attack on U.S. Likely; Hunt Continues in Afghanistan
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 20, 2002 The al Qaeda terrorist network definitely has the will, the numbers of trained people and the resources to conduct another attack on the United States, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold said at a Pentagon news conference this morning.
An attack is "predictable," said Newbold, the Joint Staff operations director. "We are in a constant state of planning. We were pre-9-11 and certainly have been since."
"Intelligence of a general nature leads U.S. officials to believe another attack is likely," Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said. The al Qaeda terrorists have "clearly expressed their intent and desire" to do so, and an organization with the planning skills, time, resources and funding "to pull off 9-ll, probably had some other things in mind" as well.
Clarke pointed out that since Sept. 11, U.S. officials have taken extraordinary steps to prevent attacks on Americans. U.S. officials have improved intelligence coordination among U.S. agencies and "there is unprecedented cooperation with dozens of countries around the world on law enforcement, on military operations, on intelligence," Clarke said.
U.S. defense officials are standing up Northern Command this fall "with the express purpose of focusing largely on homeland defense," she continued. U.S. and coalition agencies also have cooperated to tighten security at borders and ports.
But, Clarke noted, as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said, you can't protect against every attack. "You couldn't build a bunker deep enough," she stressed. "You couldn't have enough people to protect against every attack, which is why we're on the offense."
Along with doing all they can to protect the American homeland from terrorists, she said, U.S. leaders are making an "incredible effort to go after them and to go after those who harbor and support them."
U.S. and coalition allies continue with Operation Mountain Lion, which is intended to locate, isolate, close with and destroy any remnants of al Qaeda and Taliban that might still exist in eastern Afghanistan, Newbold said.
"The willingness of the al Qaeda and Taliban to form large groups that will stand and fight against our forces is now dissipated," he said. "They've changed their tactics. They operate in small groups to avoid contact with our forces." Newbold said the groups are made up of between three and 12 men.
U.S. and coalition forces are executing a well-orchestrated plan to find where enemy forces may be hiding. "As we do that and we locate their forces, we go after them, and actions over the last two weeks are pretty symptomatic of that," Newbold said.
U.S. and coalition forces are operating with Afghan forces in a very mountainous, rugged, isolated, harsh area of southeastern Afghanistan, Newbold said. The area was traditionally sympathetic to the Taliban regime.
The coalition teams go into the mountains along traditional routes to locations where an enemy presence has been detected. "We're moving in rather checkerboard fashion throughout this area to isolate areas that have the greatest potential," the general said.
"In some cases these are remnants of Taliban forces or al Qaeda that have come from other portions of Afghanistan," he said. "I'm certain that some of them are living in caves but others may come from villages."
Newbold reported that Sgt. Gene Arden Vance Jr., 38, of Morgantown, W.Va., a member of the 19th Special Forces Group of the West Virginia National Guard, was killed in southeastern Afghanistan May 19 near the village of Shkin. An Afghan soldier was wounded in the incident.
Vance's Special Forces team and an Afghan military unit were moving through an area in sport utility vehicles when they took fire, Newbold said. Rounds struck the vehicle and hit the American soldier and an Afghan at the same time.
"Our forces did return fire, killing at least one of the enemy," he said. "We are pursuing the enemy. We don't know precisely the identity, but we do know they fired on our forces."
The soldier's death is a reminder that Afghanistan is a very dangerous place, Clarke said. "It also reminds us of the sacrifices that are being made every day by the men and women in the military. And it strengthens our resolve in the pursuit of the terrorists, the terrorist networks, and those who are harboring and fostering and supporting them."
Vance's death brings to 38 the total number of Americans who have lost their lives in and around Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. An Australian, four Canadians and many Afghans also have given their lives in the pursuit of the terrorists, Clarke said.
"We are deeply indebted to everyone who has suffered and sacrificed in this noble cause," Clarke said. "They are performing an extraordinarily important role, and I just don't think we can emphasize enough how much we appreciate that."