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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Inouye: End in sight in Afghanistan

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye said yesterday that the war in Afghanistan is ratcheting down — with an end in sight — but terrorism concerns remain widespread and will continue to affect daily life for some time.

Adm. Dennis Blair, left, commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye addressed a Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii luncheon yesterday in Waikiki, discussing terrorism and the military response.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

"If you are speaking of the military aspect in Afghanistan, I would say we should be concluded within two months," Inouye told an audience of several hundred at the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii's annual luncheon with military and government leaders at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

But the war on terrorism "will go on for a long time," Inouye said, adding that the events of Sept. 11 have changed everyday routines like clearing security at airports.

"I realize when we first went to the airport (following the attacks), we found that it took a little while longer to go through the security line," said Inouye, D-Hawai'i. "That's to be understood. That will become part of our lifestyle and I think we'll be ready to do whatever we can."

Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of U.S. Pacific forces, said: "I can tell you that of the places in the U.S., Hawai'i is probably the safest right now."

He said that before the sun rose on the morning of Sept. 11, Hawai'i air defenses were patrolling the skies.

Blair said the United States and anti-Taliban forces have broken the back of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, but there remain tough mop-up operations to make sure the terrorist forces are completely removed.

Pacific forces, meanwhile, have gone on their own offensive to root out terrorist cells in the Asia-Pacific region "and to ensure that those who are looking for new homes don't come this way," he said.

Recent arrests involving terrorist cells in Malaysia and Singapore have made it tougher for terrorists to plan and carry out attacks, Blair said.

Singapore in December arrested 15 people suspected of having ties to al-Qaida. Authorities said the detainees were part an apparent plot to attack the island nation's deep-water navy port, which the Pacific Fleet aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson visited during the holidays. The Vinson, with its crew and air wing of about 6,000, is in Pearl Harbor on its way home to Bremerton, Wash.

As part of an earlier briefing yesterday involving the chamber and top military officials based in Hawai'i, Marine Forces Pacific's Brig. Gen. John Castellaw said Marine Expeditionary Units that went into southern Afghanistan stopped in Hawai'i on the way for training.

Looking ahead, Lt. Gen. Ed Smith, commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, said a fast-responding "Interim Brigade Combat Team" outfitted with 330 wheeled armored vehicles is expected to be in initial operating status in fiscal 2007.

C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes are expected to be based at Hickam Air Force Base as part of the Army transformation plan that is expected to cost about $1 billion to develop in Hawai'i.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.