Terrorists Should Be Killed, Not Captured

Los Angles Times, Dec. 19

By MARVIN C. OTT, Marvin C. Ott is a professor of national security policy at National War College. The views expressed are his own.

President Bush has said he wants Osama bin Laden "dead or alive; it makes no difference to me." A retired colonel recently observed that the U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda looked like a "war of extermination." When asked by the press, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld disputed that characterization.

These and similar statements have raised but not clarified an important point. To put it bluntly: The colonel is right.

This is a war of extermination, fundamentally different from any war the United States has ever fought. The accepted pattern of warfare, since the creation of the modern nation-state about 350 years ago, is familiar. Armies clash, one emerges victorious (or a truce is reached) and a surrender or peace agreement brings the fighting to a close.

The pattern was essentially the same whether it was France after Waterloo, Bolshevik Russia after Brest Litovsk or Japan after Nagasaki.

The latter case is instructive.

Few combatants were ever more fanatically devoted to their cause than the Japanese soldiers who fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa or those who mounted kamikaze attacks on U.S. forces. But when the emperor gave his opaque and elliptical announcement of surrender, every Japanese soldier who heard it gave up the fight. When U.S. forces occupied Japan they encountered a traumatized but entirely peaceable population. There were no snipers or die-hard guerrilla bands. The same was true in occupied Germany.

Today we face a situation different in two decisive respects: the nature of the enemy and the technology available to him.

The enemy is not a nation but a shadowy network of political-religious fanatics. The word "religion" is important because to a significant degree these are people who think they are fighting a war mandated by God.

Their war aims are nothing short of the eradication of modern society and its replacement by a reborn 8th century caliphate of early Islam applied worldwide. In the recently discovered videotape of Bin Laden's conversation with his acolytes, hardly a sentence goes by without a reference to Islam or Allah.

If you are God's warrior, surrender in any meaningful sense is impossible. To surrender is to disobey God. So we have the badly wounded Al Qaeda fighter in a Kandahar hospital who, with weapons still in hand, demands that the doctor save his mutilated leg because "I will need it to kill Americans."

To the advent of Al Qaeda is added the potential availability of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Bin Laden has publicly claimed to possess nuclear weapons. This is probably exaggerated. But it is not hard to imagine how Al Qaeda might obtain nuclear capability. It would likely come from one of two sources: a renegade sympathizer inside the Pakistani nuclear program or someone with access to the Russian arsenal who could be bribed.

The combination of unbounded fanaticism and the potential availability of weapons of mass destruction makes the current war unique. There can be no doubt that if Bin Laden and his network obtain a nuclear or biological weapon, they'll use it as a weapon of mass murder against the West.

On the recently released tape, a smiling Bin Laden in a clearly celebratory mood describes how his colleagues were "overjoyed" when the first plane hit the World Trade Center and how he counseled patience because something even better was coming.

This means that Al Qaeda must not only be crippled and disrupted, it must be utterly eradicated. For U.S. forces in the field, the mission should be to kill Al Qaeda fighters. Accept surrenders, but don't seek them. For those captured, the minimum sentence should be solitary confinement for life.

This war will be one of indefinite duration as the multiple clandestine cells and linkages of the network are pursued and uprooted. Traditional concerns of sovereignty are likely to be one early casualty. The U.S. has already put the world on notice that it intends to pursue Bin Laden and his network wherever the trail leads. If any country is foolish enough to try to provide safe haven for these terrorists, the conversation between Washington and the government in question is likely to be extremely brief before U.S. forces cross the border.

The shared concern over this new threat will sustain and deepen at least elements of the international anti-terrorist coalition. But let us have no illusions as to what we are about. Civilization's response to smallpox was to seek (and achieve) its eradication from nature. This is our analogy; it is a war without quarter.