Osama's Endgame


    He's No Fool: Bin Laden, with lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri, has a well-articulated plan of action

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    What's His War Strategy?
    In the same treatise, bin Laden concludes that "it is wise in the present circumstances" that Muslim armies not fight a conventional war against the U.S. "due to the imbalance of power." Rather, he says, "a suitable means of fighting must be adopted, i.e., using fast-moving light forces that work under complete secrecy. In other words, to initiate guerrilla warfare."

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    Initially, bin Laden confined his target to the U.S. military. But in 1995 and '96, he observed that truck-bomb attacks on U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia served to provoke strains between the Americans and Saudis, a development he relished and thought brought him closer to his goal of expelling U.S. troops from the Arabian peninsula.

    In 1998, bin Laden decreed that Muslims should kill Americans, including civilians, wherever they could. In interviews, he explained that American citizens were culpable for the sins of their government because they elected it "despite their knowledge of its crimes." He invoked the principle of reciprocity, saying Americans had killed Muslim women and children, so their women and children would die too.

    This guerrilla war, with women and children as collateral damage, is part of a broader military strategy to ensnare the U.S. in a larger East-West conflict. Roland Jacquard, president of the International Observatory on Terrorism in Paris, believes that bin Laden intended the Sept. 11 attack to be so "audacious, impudent and massively inhumane" as to ensure a "massive, inordinate" U.S. retaliation that would further inflame Muslim opinion against the U.S. and against the Arab regimes allied with Washington. Says Jacquard: "His design is to create sufficient instability to bring about Islamic revolution."

    That and a U.S. retreat. Bin Laden has repeatedly described Americans as easily scared into submission. He cites the pullout of U.S. troops from Beirut after a 1983 truck bombing there killed 241 Marines, and the withdrawal from Somalia after 18 U.S. soldiers died there. He plainly thinks a large enough number of attacks will lead the U.S. to withdraw entirely from the Arab world and even fall apart as a nation. He connects the crumbling of the Soviet Union to Moscow's defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of local Muslim rebels he aided. In 1998, bin Laden told abc reporter John Miller, "There is a lesson here. We are certain that we shall prevail over the Americans and over the Jews...Instead of remaining united states, it shall end up separated states."

    That will seem preposterous to Americans, but like many Islamic radicals, bin Laden takes a long view of history. "Can bin Laden, a very intelligent guy, really think that he could end the U.S.?" asks Jessica Stern, Harvard lecturer and author of The Ultimate Terrorists. "He refers to historical periods when Muslims have conquered the West, so yes, perhaps he thinks he can accomplish that once again."

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