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British Chief of Staff Critical of War on Terror

December 19, 2001

Britain's top military officer warns that the "war on terrorism" will "radicalize" friendly states and lead to increased terrorism.

While Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Britain, the United State's closest ally in Afghanistan and only ally in Iraq, on the three-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror, significant differences surfaced on how to proceed with the "war on terrorism."

British Chief of Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce revealed a significant divergence between the allies' military and political branches on what to do after the defeat of the Taliban.  Boyce said that America's determination to use military might in a wider war was certain to "radicalize" friendly states whose support Britain and other nations need.

Speculation is growing that the United States will attack Iraq as part of its "war." Powell will not rule out war against Iraq.  An attack on Iraq would further destabilize the region, experts on the Middle East warn, drawing in neutral countries and stretching the allied coalition to the breaking point.

Britain will have to lay down "red lines" beyond which it would not go, Boyce said. Whatever is done must be legal, the admiral said, because to do otherwise would jeopardize its legitimacy.  The alliance must beware of "exporting terrorism," which had been the experience of the United States in Colombia, Boyce said, where military operations against the guerrilla movement, FARC, had forced it into Mexico and Guatemala.

Boyce also warned of "excessive optimism" about successes against the Taliban because the war was not conventional and could not be measured in territory won.  Osama Bin Laden's al Qaeda network remained "a fielded, resourced, dedicated and essentially autonomous terrorist force, quite capable of atrocity on a comparable scale" to the Sept. 11 attacks, Boyce said.

Boyce criticized the massive U.S. bombing campaigns saying that lack of constraint and proportionality could simply "radicalize" opinion in the Islamic world in favor of al Qaeda. Terrorism could only be defeated by winning "hearts and minds," Boyce said. You cannot win the "war" by bombing and military action could have precisely the opposite effect to the one intended, he warned.

"Washington is making it quite plain that after bombing Afghanistan and toppling the Taliban, it wants to get out of the country as soon as Mullah Omar and Bin Laden are captured, or presumed dead, leaving others to clean up the mess," wrote Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian.  Politicians and the media should take a longer-term view of events on the ground where the situation could often be tenuous, he said.

The international community must attack the causes, not the symptoms of terrorism, Boyce said. The enemy is not just Osama Bin Laden. This was not a "high-tech 21st century posse in the new Wild West," he said.  Boyce, however, did not mention the presence of American bases in Saudi Arabia, or America's failure to apply pressure on Israel to recognize a Palestinian state—"absolutely central issues raised only in private by senior officials" in both the British military and political establishments, wrote Norton-Taylor.

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