U.S. Likely to Seek Hard, Fast Response

ReutersIsraelis lighting candles outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Wednesday as Israel mourned in a show of solidarity with its ally.
BRUSSELS -- The United States is likely to seek a swift, devastating military response to Tuesday's attacks on its key symbols of money and power, but it faces a long war of attrition against a new brand of terrorism, experts say.

"The Americans will want to strike back fast and hard to satisfy the public need for revenge and restore deterrence, but the fight against this new terrorism is a long, weary battle against an elusive, nonstate enemy," said a NATO official.

Diplomats at NATO and European Union headquarters in Brussels said Washington would be looking to its allies for political solidarity, practical cooperation in counterterrorism and perhaps even participation in military action.

"In this new war, the American people will be looking very carefully to see who are their allies and who are not. We are all going to have to rally behind the United States now," said an European Union diplomat.

Experts forecast an early strike on Afghanistan if evidence hardens that exiled Saudi guerrilla chieftain Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks.

Steven Simon, assistant director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said all signs pointed to bin Laden's Islamic militant network.

"One distinguishing feature of this kind of terrorism is the obsession with high casualties. What these religious terrorists want is to kill as many of the enemy as possible and humiliate the enemy by hitting symbolic targets," he said in an interview.

Simon, a counterterrorism expert in former U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration, said bin Laden had threatened exactly this sort of action in a June videotape and was linked to a 1993 car-bombing at the World Trade Center towers, in which five people died.

Simon forecast that Congress would be more inclined now to pass President George W. Bush's request to fund a national missile defense system, even though it would have had no impact against an attack of Tuesday's type.

U.S. policymakers differ about the efficacy of striking out at guerrilla chiefs abroad, given the risk of missing the target and the political impact in the Moslem world.

Clinton launched an unsuccessful cruise missile strike on bin Laden's headquarters in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan in 1998 after bombers believed linked to al-Qaida destroyed the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Simon said any U.S. strike on Afghanistan could destabilize neighboring Pakistan, where bin Laden and Kabul's ruling Islamic purist Taliban movement have many militant supporters.

Washington has had only limited success in convincing major partners to work more closely on counterterrorism, partly because some European governments differed with the U.S. definition of who is a terrorist, and some felt that pro-Israeli U.S. Middle East policy played into the hands of radicals.

The commercial links of countries such as Russia and France with states regarded by the United States as "rogues," such as Iraq and Iran, also narrowed the scope for joint action.

NATO security chiefs meet quarterly to share information on a range of threats including terrorism, but insiders say the major powers, especially the United States, are loath to share intelligence with allies for fear of leaks.