On August 20,1998 the United States launched retaliatory and preemptive missile strikes against training bases and infrastructure in Afghanistan used by groups affiliated with radical extremist and terrorist financier Usama bin Laden. A "pharmaceutical" plant in Sudan, making a critical nerve gas component, was destroyed as well. This is the first time the U.S. has unreservedly acknowledged a preemptive military strike against a terrorist organization or network. This has led to speculation that faced with a growing number of major attacks on U.S. persons and property and mounting casualties, U.S. policymakers may be setting a new direction in counter-terrorism- a more proactive and global policy, less constrained when targeting terrorists, their bases, or infrastructure. Questions raised include: What is the nature and extent of any actual policy shift; what are its pros and cons; and what other policy options exist? Issues of special concern to Congress include: (1) U.S,
domestic and overseas preparedness for terrorist attacks and retaliatory strikes; (2) the need for consultation with Congress over policy shifts which might result in an undeclared type of war; and (3) sustaining public and Congressional support for a long term policy which may prove costly in: (a) dollars; (b) initial up-front loss of human lives, and (c) potential restrictions on civil liberties. Whether to change the 1 presidential ban on assassinations and whether to place Afghanistan on the "terrorism" list warrants attention as well. This short report is intended for Members and staffers who cover terrorism, as well as U.S. foreign and defense policy. It will be updated as events warrant. For more information, see CRS Issue Brief 95112, Terrorism, the Future and U S. Foreign Policy and CRS Report 98-722F, Terrorism: Middle East Groups and State Sponsors.
Background On August 7, 1998, the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. At least 252 people died (including 12 U.S. citizens) and more than 5,000 were injured. Secretary of State Albright pledged to "use all means at our disposal to track down and punish" those responsible. On August 20,1998, the United States launched missile strikes against training bases in Afghanistan used by groups affiliated with radical extremist and terrorist financier Usama bin Laden. U.S. officials have said there is convincing evidence he was a major player in the bombings. A pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, identified by U.S. intelligence as a precursor chemical weapons facility with connections to bin Laden, was hit as well.
The United States has bombed terrorist targets in the past in retaliation for anti-U . S. operations (Libya, in 1986 following the Berlin Disco bombing and Iraq in 1993 as a response to a plot to assassinate former President Bush) and an increasingly proactive law enforcement policy has resulted in bringing roughly 10 suspected terrorists to the U.S. for trial since 1993. However, this is the first time the U. S. has given such primary and public prominence to the preemptive, not just retaliatory, nature and motive of a military strike against a terrorist organization or network. This may be signaling a more proactive and global counter-terrorism policy, less constrained when targeting terrorists, their bases, or infrastructure.1 1 The same day as the missile strike, the President signed an executive order E.O. 13099, [63 Fed. Reg. 45167] which would freeze any assets owned by bin Laden, specific associates, their self-proclaimed Islamic Army Organization, and prohibiting U.S. individuals and firms from doing business with them. Bin Laden's network of affiliated organizations pledged retaliation; the State Department issued an overseas travel advisory warning for U.S. citizens, and security has been heightened, particularly at embassies, airports and domestic federal installations and facilities. On August 25, 1998 it was reported a federal grand jury in New York had indicted bin Laden in June 1998 in connection with terrorist acts committed in the U.S. prior to the embassy bombings. A "retaliatory" bombing at a South African Planet Hollywood restaurant in Capetown on August 25, 1998 killed one and wounded 24 persons. For information on the role of Sudan and Afghanistan in support of International terrorism: See CRS Issue Brief 95112, Terrorism, the Future, and U.S. Foreign Policy by Raphael Perl, See also: Terrorism: Middle Eastern Groups and State Sponsors. by Kenneth Katzman, CRS Report No. 98-722 F Is There a Policy Shift and What Are Its Key Elements? The proactive nature of the U.S. response, if official Administration statements are to be taken at face value, can readily be interpreted to signal a new direction in antiterrorism policy. A series of press conferences, TV interviews and written explanations given by Administration officials reveal what appears that goes well beyond what could characterized as to be a carefully orchestrated theme one-time, isolated-show-of- strength -statements. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, in words similar to those of National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, characterized the response as "the long term, fundamental way in which the United States intends to combat the forces of terror" and noted that "we will not simply play passive defense." Secretary of State Albright stressed in TV interviews that: "We are involved in a long- term struggle.... This is unfortunately the war of the future.. " and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger stressed in public media appearances that "You can't fight this enemy simply in defense. You also have to be prepared to go on the offense". In what some see as a warning to other terrorist groups who may seek weapons of mass destruction, President Clinton in his August 20' statement from Martha's Vineyard, gave as one of four reasons for ordering the attacks :" because they are seeking to develop chemical weapons and other dangerous weapons".2 2 See for example: The Policy: We are Ready to Act Again, editorial by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Washington Post, August 23, 1998, p. C- I and U.S. Hints at More Strikes at bin-Laden by Eugene Robinson and Dana Priest, Washington Post, p. A- I August 22, 1998. An excellent series of excerpts from press conferences and TV interviews by Administration officials which could be used to support the premise of a policy shift are found in the PBS television series Jim Lehrer Newshour report of August 25, 1998. See also: New Rules in a New Kind of War, by Peter Grier and Jonathan S. Landay, Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 1998, P. 1.
Statements aside, the fact remains that this is the first time the U.S. has: (1) launched and acknowledged a preemptive strike against a terrorist organization or network, (2) launched such a strike within the territory of a state which presumably is not conclusively, actively and directly to blame for the action triggering retaliation, (3) launched military strikes at multiple terrorist targets within the territory of more than one foreign nation, and (4) attacked a target where the avowed goal was not to attack a single individual terrorist, but an organizational infrastructure instead. Moreover, in the case of the facility in Sudan, the target was characterized as one that poses a longer term danger rather than an immediate threat.
Inherent in Administration statements and actions are allusions to a terrorism policy which, in response to immediate casualties and a global vision of higher levels of casualties is: (1) more global, less defensive, and more proactive; (2) more national security oriented and less traditional law enforcement oriented, (3) more likely to use military force and other proactive measures, (4) less likely to be constrained by national boundaries when sanctuary is offered terrorists or their infrastructure in instances where vital national security interests are at stake, and (5) generally more unilateral when other measures fail, particularly if other nations do not make an effort to subscribe to like-minded policies up front. A policy with such elements can be characterized as one shifting from a long term diplomatic, economic and law enforcement approach to one which more frequently relies on employment of military force and covert operations. Implied in such a policy shift is the belief that though terrorism increasingly poses a threat to all nations, all nations may not sign up with equal commitment in the battle against it and bear the full financial and retaliatory costs of engagement. In such an environment, the aggrieved nations with the most at stake must lead the battle and may need to take the strongest measures alone.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Such a Shift? Arguments in favor of a proactive deterrent policy. Such a policy: (1) shows strength and world leadership--i.e., other nations are less inclined to support leaders that look weak and act ineffectively; (2) provides disincentives for other would be terrorists-, (3) is more cost- effective by thwarting enemy actions rather than trying to harden all potential targets, waiting for the enemy to strike, and suffering damage; (4) may truly damage or disrupt the enemy--dry up his safehavens--sources of funds and weapons and limit his ability to operate, and (5) provides governments unhappy with the U. S. response an incentive to pursue bilateral and multilateral diplomatic and law enforcement remedies to remain