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Osama, where art thou?

Byline: The Register-Guard

It's enough to drive a nation nuts. Since Sept. 11, Americans have focused their hearts and minds on the search for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Now the last organized resistance by his al-Qaeda forces has collapsed, and the terrorist mastermind and his top lieutenants seem to have vanished.

You can almost feel the anxiety as Americans agonize over the whereabouts of the man who has justifiably been called the personification of evil.

Where is Osama bin Laden? Is he threading his way through the mountainous wilds of eastern Afghanistan, hoping to slip into Pakistan where tribal leaders remain sympathetic? Is he still hiding in a redoubt somewhere deep in the Tora Bora complex? Is he dead and buried in a mountainside cavern, entombed by an American bomb? Or is he sipping tea at an outdoor cafe in downtown Mogadishu and planning his next terrorist attack on the United States?

It's maddening. And it's unavoidable. U.S. military forces seem to be doing everything possible to find bin Laden and others on this blackest of blacklists, including bin Laden's top surviving deputies, Ayman al-Zawahri and Abu Zubaydah. Also missing is Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader who bolted Kandahar in the middle of the night after urging his forces to stand and fight.

Like it or not, Americans must face the reality that the war in Afghanistan is far from over. President Bush has made clear from the outset that the struggle will be long and difficult, and that the ultimate goal is the complete and total defeat of terrorists who used that country as their fortified breeding ground. As long as bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders remain at large, America's mission remains unfulfilled and the possibility, even the probability, remains that they will reorganize and retaliate.

It's doubtful that President Bush will lose his focus. The president and his advisors, in particular Secretary of State Colin Powell, seem to have learned the lesson of the senior George Bush's failure to remove Saddam Hussein from power during the Gulf War. If anyone in the administration had lost sight of the true goal, the discovery of the videotape showing bin Laden's amused pleasure at the collapse of the World Trade Center towers surely restored it.

The United States has many other tasks to accomplish before it can declare the job done in Afghanistan. A transitional administration, forged between diverse ethnic, tribal and political groupings with a history of fractiousness, will require much assistance from the United States. The presence of a multinational peacekeeping force will also be necessary to keep the peace between rival factions.

The Bush administration must also make certain that the international community fulfills its pledge to provide the billions of dollars needed to finance the mammoth reconstruction programs that Afghanistan needs. More than two decades of war have left Afghanistan little more than stones and dirt, with no infrastructure, no public sector, no manufacturing industry and no school system.

There has been talk in recent days by administration officials about the next front in the war on terrorism. Some favor going after Saddam Hussein in Iraq, others want to target terrorists in countries such as Somalia and Indonesia.

Such talk is premature and even dangerous. The United States has far too much left to accomplish in Afghanistan to consider opening up new fronts in the war against terrorism. It's time to keep the focus, finish the job and, yes, find Osama bin Laden.
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Title Annotation:U.S. has much left to do in Afghanistan; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 19, 2001
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