The Pentagon has urged Congress to authorize 500 million dollars for building a network of friendly militias around the world to purge terrorists from “ungoverned areas” — and warned Muslim clerics against providing “ideological sanctuary” to radicals.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq war, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday the money would be used “for training and equipping local security forces — not just armies — to counter terrorism and insurgencies.”
If approved as part of a larger defense bill, the package will “provide greater internal security in areas that are or could become sanctuaries for terrorists,” he said.
No specific beneficiaries of the program were named, but US officials have repeatedly expressed concern about vast tracts of land along the Afghan- Pakistani border, in Iraq, the Caucasus, Horn of Africa and various islands in the Philippines where radical Islamic fighters could set up shop.
The strategy has already been tried in Afghanistan, where US special forces managed to forge alliances with some tribal warlords, who became instrumental in bringing down the Taliban government in 2001 and keeping its remnants at bay, said US military experts.
“Indeed, our most important allies in the war on terrorism will be Muslims who seek freedom and oppose extremism,” Wolfowitz stated.
The request comes amid a concerted push by top Defense Department and other administration officials to develop new forms of “asymmetrical” warfare that would be more effective against small terrorist cells and would spare the United States the need to deploy large contingents of its own forces around the world.
Addressing the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke of the need for the Pentagon to adjust to the new reality of not having to confront big foreign armies, navies and air forces it was originally trained to fight.
“There are not a lot of them around at the moment,” the secretary pointed out. “And we’ve got manhunts going on.”
To help establish contact with local chieftains and get into their good graces, the Pentagon is considering hiring immigrants to serve as “bicultural advisors” in unfamiliar areas and implementing a number of economic aid projects there, according to defense officials.
In his testimony, Wolfowitz also suggested expanding the scope of the war on terror by including into the list of its possible targets radical Islamic clerics, who, in his words, provide “ideological sanctuary” to terrorism.
In addition, he called for tightening control over international communication networks, including the Internet.
He argued that extremist clerics provide cover to militants “by sanctioning terrorism, by recruiting new adherents, and by intimidating moderate clerics from speaking out against them.”
However, there was no mention by name of Moqtada Sadr, a Shiite preacher that is leading an anti-American revolt in the Iraqi city of Najaf.
“There should be no room in this world for governments that support terrorism, no ungoverned areas where terrorist can operate with impunity, no easy opportunities for terrorists to abuse the freedom of democratic societies, no ideological sanctuary, and no free pass to exploit the technologies of communications to serve terrorist ends,” Wolfowitz insisted.
He did not say what additional measures could be taken to prevent terrorists from exploiting freedoms in the United States, but pointed out it would involve “difficult decisions.”
The USA Patriot Act passed by Congress in the wake of the September 11 attacks grants the FBI and other law enforcement agencies additional surveillance and investigative powers. But it has been under attack from civil libertarians, who call it an assault on the US constitution.