New Front In War On Terror

Leah Markowitz, left, is embraced by Susan Markowitz as they accompany Robyn Johnson and Barbara Markowitz into Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Friday, May 15, 2009, as opening statements began in the Jesse James Hollywood trial. AP Photo/Eric Parsons

U.S. Special Forces will be deployed to the former Soviet republic of Georgia later this week to open the newest front in the war on terrorism, CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports.

Al Qaeda fighters have taken refuge in a remote mountain gorge in the country. Some of the terrorists fled to the gorge after the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan. Others crossed into Georgia from Chechnya, where they have been fighting alongside Chechen rebels who have waged a bloody revolt against Russian rule.

The Americans will give Georgian troops the kind of training, advice and equipment Special Forces are currently giving the Philippine Army in its war against the Abu Sayeff terrorist group.

Eventually, the U.S. soldiers plan to accompany Georgian troops on operations into the Pankisi Gorge where the al Qaeda fighters are hiding out.

U.S. officials say there have been extensive contacts between Chechen rebels and al Qaeda and that many Arabs who trained at Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan were sent to Chechnya to fight.

A military operation against some of the same al Qaeda fighters who have fought that war unavoidably draws the U.S. into that conflict. That is a risk officials say they would not have taken before September 11th.

Back in northern Afghanistan, 200 soldiers laid down their weapons and peacekeepers launched a boot camp to begin training a national army, but uncertainties remained in war-torn country.

At the 120-year-old Baghjahanuma fort on Monday, warlord Atta Mohammed saluted his men before ordering them to place their kalashnikovs in the dirt and step back. Other soldiers turned in grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns and mortars.

Discouraging rival warlords from turning their armies on each other is seen as the greatest challenge ahead as interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai tries to consolidate power in the hands of a stable national government.

International peacekeepers began training a battalion that will be the vanguard of a new national army, said Jonathan Turner, spokesman for the British-led peacekeeping force in Kabul. Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim has said he eventually wants to see a standing army of 200,000 men.

The training with AK-47 rifles is being conducted on a former military academy that was heavily bombed by U.S. and British jets during the air assault on strategic targets in Kabul. Turner said the area has firing ranges and similar facilities that can be used for training the new recruits.

Instructors from five countries — Britain, Turkey, France, Italy and Germany — have six weeks to instill structure and discipline in the men, who have mostly known hit-and-run guerrilla tactics.

The recruits – 600 to start with – were chosen by provincial governments and approved by the Defense Ministry. Because many regions are controlled by rival warlords, there is a danger some troops will be more loyal to their former bosses than to the central government.

But Turner said international peacekeepers will have some say in the selection. "If there are some we decide should not be there we will have no hesitation in saying so," he said.

The U.N.-brokered interim government gave the defense, interior and foreign ministries to ethnic Tajiks, all of whom are from the Panjshir Valley of the Hindu Kush, the heartland of slain northern alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massood.

Although interim Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun tribal leader from Kandahar, the spiritual headquarters of the Taliban regime, many Pashtuns have complained of being marginalized since the Taliban's collapse.

An emphasis is being placed on making sure the new army is more diverse, and Turner said it is possible that some men who once fought with the Taliban may end up in the new Afghan army. But he said the foot soldiers of the Taliban were often conscripted and did not necessarily have any more loyalty to the deposed regime than they did to past governments.

In other developments:

  • Karzai ended a high profile three-day visit to Iran, saying U.S. rhetoric would not influence his government's resolve to improve ties. Karzai, who was officially seen off by President Mohammad Khatami at Saadabad Palace in northern Tehran, said Iran's contribution to rebuild Afghanistan was needed.

  • Afghanistan's government will meet representatives from major donor nations and aid agencies Thursday to map out the country's development needs for the coming year, the United Nations said. President Bush has taken steps to ensure that Afghanistan will be entitled to the full range of U.S. assistance despite a finding that it failed to meet international drug control standards last year.

  • In a meeting with Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan raised the question of extraditing the main suspect in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
    • Pete Brush

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