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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The War on Terrorism Expands

The war on terrorism is rapidly spreading to new theaters. Already, U.S. Special Forces are helping train Philippine troops to fight al-Qaida-linked militants; last week came news that similar programs will soon be launched in Yemen and Georgia. The proliferation of fronts has begun to raise questions from some Democrats in Congress, who wonder if the Bush administration is showing more skill at getting into new military commitments than at finding exit strategies for them, or articulating an overall war plan. Yet these missions, though dispersed geographically, cannot be separated from the campaign of self-defense that the United States began last year in Afghanistan. Terrorists connected to al-Qaida and dedicated to continuing a war against Americans are operating in a wide range of places around the world; taking steps to eliminate them is as vital in Yemen or Georgia as it was in Afghanistan.

There is little doubt that senior al-Qaida militants are at large in Yemen, possibly including the organizers of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which occurred in the Yemeni harbor of Aden. Before Sept. 11, the Yemeni government was reluctant to pursue the terrorists or cooperate with FBI investigators looking into the Cole bombing; now, fearful of the consequences of opposing the United States, it appears eager to host U.S. Special Forces. By agreeing to train and equip Yemeni troops, the Bush administration may be able to eliminate what otherwise would remain a substantial al-Qaida presence in Yemen while coaxing its government to become a Western partner rather than a Taliban-like outlaw.

In Georgia the threat is murkier, but the political benefits of U.S. involvement are even clearer. U.S. officials say there is hard evidence that Arab terrorists and possibly some Afghans have taken refuge in the Pankisi Gorge, a remote and wild strip of Georgian territory adjacent to Chechnya. The terrorists are mixed in among thousands of civilian refugees from Chechnya, where Russia's brutal war against a rebel movement grinds relentlessly on; there are also some Chechen fighters in the area, as well as local bandits.

Separating the al-Qaida and Taliban elements from this volatile stew will be difficult and dangerous, which is why U.S. forces are there to train and equip the Georgians, not participate in their operations. But if the U.S. mission can help the Georgians succeed in restoring order to the Pankisi, it will yield a double benefit: Not only will another, potentially important, al-Qaida refuge be eliminated, but Russia will also be prevented from using the trouble as an excuse to bomb and bully Georgia, a pro-Western country whose sovereignty Moscow has never fully accepted.

The case for U.S. intervention may be weakest in the Philippines, where some 650 U.S. soldiers are training Manila's army units to fight the small Abu Sayyaf group. Critics point out that Abu Sayyaf's connections to al-Qaida are tenuous and its numbers small. But the scale of U.S. involvement has also been exaggerated; only about 80 Special Forces soldiers actually are deployed with the Filipinos on patrols. The training and intelligence may well serve to help the Philippines' democratic government wipe out a group whose principal activity has been to kidnap, torture and murder Westerners, and which currently holds two Americans.

Even if al-Qaida were not involved, that outcome would be worth the modest investment of U.S. resources.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Washington Post.