OPINION: Why We’re Losing the War on Terror and How We Can Win
Is the United States Losing the War on Terror?
I think so. For some background, below is a brief synopsis of two strategies developed by the United States to combat/counter terrorism.
The Strategy and End State; 2003-2010
The United States 4D Strategy to Combat Terrorism from 2003-2010.
The United States and its partners will defeat terrorist organizations of global reach by attacking their sanctuaries; leadership; command, control, and communications; material support; and finances.
Deny further sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists by ensuring other states accept their responsibilities to take action against these international threats within their sovereign territory.
Diminish the underlying conditions that terrorist seek to exploit by enlisting the international community to focus its efforts and resources on the areas most at risk.
Defend the United States, our citizens, and our interests at home and abroad by both proactively protecting our homeland and extending our defenses to ensure we identify and neutralize the threat as early as possible.
The End State:
Victory against terrorism will not occur as a single, defining moment. It will not be marked by the likes of the surrender ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri that ended World War II. However, through the sustained effort to compress the scope and capability of terrorist organizations, isolate them regionally, and destroy them within state borders, the United States and its friends and allies will secure a world in which our children can live free from fear and where the threat of terrorist attacks does not define our daily lives.
Victory, therefore, will be secured only as long as the United States and the international community maintain their vigilance and work tirelessly to prevent terrorists from inflicting horrors like those of September 11, 2001.
The US Strategy; 2011-Present
In 2011 the Obama administration modified the Bush administration’s Strategy by developing The National Strategy for Counterterrorism.
Our Overarching Goals
The United States aims to achieve eight overarching CT goals. Taken together, these desired end states articulate a framework for the success of the United States global counterterrorism mission.
– Protect the American People, Homeland, and American Interests. The most solemn responsibility of the President and the United States Government is to protect the American people, both at home and abroad. This includes eliminating threats to their physical safety, countering threats to global peace and security, and promoting and protecting U.S. interests around the globe.
– Disrupt, Degrade, Dismantle, and Defeat al-Qa‘ida and Its Affiliates and Adherents. The American people and interests will not be secure from attacks until this threat is eliminated—its primary individuals and groups rendered powerless, and its message relegated to irrelevance.
– Prevent Terrorist Development, Acquisition, and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The danger of nuclear terrorism is the greatest threat to global security. Terrorist organizations, including al-Qa‘ida, have engaged in efforts to develop and acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—and if successful, they are likely to use them.
– Eliminate Safehavens. Al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and adherents rely on the physical sanctuary of ungoverned or poorly governed territories, where the absence of state control permits terrorists to travel, train, and engage in plotting. In close coordination with foreign partners, the United States will continue to contest and diminish al-Qa‘ida’s operating space through mutually reinforcing efforts designed to prevent al-Qa‘ida from taking advantage of these ungoverned spaces.
– Build Enduring Counterterrorism Partnerships and Capabilities. Foreign partners are essential to the success of our CT efforts; these states are often themselves the target of—and on the front lines in countering—terrorist threats. The United States will continue to rely on and leverage the capabilities of its foreign partners even as it looks to contribute to their capacity and bolster their will. To achieve our objectives, partners must demonstrate the willingness and ability to operate independently, augmenting and complementing U.S. CT efforts with their unique insights and capabilities in their countries and regions.
– Degrade Links between al-Qa‘ida and its Affiliates and Adherents. Al-Qa‘ida senior leaders in Pakistan continue to leverage local and regional affiliates and adherents worldwide through formal and informal alliances to advance their global agenda. Al-Qa‘ida exploits local grievances to bolster recruitment, expand its operational reach, destabilize local governments, and reinforce safehavens from which it and potentially other terrorist groups can operate and attack the United States.
– Counter al-Qa‘ida Ideology and Its Resonance and Diminish the Specific Drivers of Violence that al-Qa‘ida Exploits. This Strategy prioritizes U.S. and partner efforts to undercut al-Qa‘ida’s fabricated legitimization of violence and its efforts to spread its ideology. As we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa, al-Qa‘ida’s calls for perpetual violence to address longstanding grievances have met a devastating rebuke in the face of nonviolent mass movements that seek solutions through expanded individual rights. Along with the majority of people across all religious and cultural traditions, we aim for a world in which al-Qa‘ida is openly and widely rejected by all audiences as irrelevant to their aspirations and concerns, a world where al-Qa‘ida’s ideology does not shape perceptions of world and local events, inspire violence, or serve as a recruiting tool for the group or its adherents.
– Deprive Terrorists of their Enabling Means. Al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and adherents continue to derive significant financial support from donors in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere through kidnapping for ransom and from exploitation of or control over lucrative elements of the local economy.
Many things are very wrong with our counter-terrorism strategy and have been wrong for a long time. Neither the Bush nor Obama Administrations have had a successful strategy. The Obama Administration’s strategy, although lengthy, sounds like a global community organizer’s touchy-feely plan to build a better community rather than a strategy to combat an enemy and keep American citizens safe. One other huge problem with Obama’s plan is this statement in his strategy document (2011):
“The United States deliberately uses the word “war” to describe our relentless campaign against al-Qa‘ida. However, this Administration has made it clear that we are not at war with the tactic of terrorism or the religion of Islam. We are at war with a specific organization—al-Qa‘ida.”
When you read the Obama strategy, you’ll notice that he and his administration are really only interested in making al-Qa‘ida “irrelevant” and not defeating the true enemy. The Obama administration sees the “terrorists” as criminals and not combatants.
Neither the Bush or the Obama administration has made good on its strategy to secure the homeland or take the fight abroad. Our political and military decision makers have failed the American people. The reality is that we’re not safer today than we were just after 911. Why is that?
1. We do not have a strategy that clearly defines who our nation’s enemies are and what our end state is.
2. We fail to truly understand the ideology and culture of who we are fighting.
3. We have a terrible information campaign at home and abroad.
4. We have never mobilized our nation (its people or industrial complex) to deal with the threat.
5. We have not sealed our borders or made it harder for potential enemies to enter.
6. We haven’t figured out yet that we have no Muslim Allies. Some of our so called “allies” are actually subverting us and we are continuing to allow them to do so.
The reality is that we are not fighting a war on terror, but a Global Islamic Insurgency. This insurgency crosses borders because of a common Islamic ideology and theology that is outlined in the Quran and Hadith. Depending on the area of the world, this insurgency can be in any of the three phases outlined in the U.S. Army Counterguerrilla Handbook:
PHASE I: Latent and Incipient Insurgency. Activity in this phase ranges from subversive activity, which is only a potential threat, to situations where frequent subversive incidents and activities occur in a pattern. It involves no major outbreak of violence or uncontrolled insurgent activity. The insurgent force does not conduct continuous operations but rather selected acts of terrorism. An insurgency could achieve victory during this phase.
PHASE II: Guerrilla Warfare. This phase is reached when the insurgent movement, having gained enough local external support, initiates organized continuous guerrilla warfare or related forms of violence against a government. This is an attempt to force government forces into a defensive role. As the insurgent becomes stronger, he begins to conduct larger operations.
PHASE III: War of Movement. When the insurgent attains the force structure and ability to directly engage government forces in decisive combat, he begins to use more conventional tactics.
The fact that everyone will not admit that this is a Global Islamic Insurgency that crosses all borders is problematic. It’s problematic because Western nations really don’t know how to deal with it because they want to be politically correct. The reality is we have no time to be politically correct and we need to make the Islamic world accountable for their own actions or lack of actions.
The United States has screwed around long enough during the last 14 years. The world is more dangerous now because our decision makers continue to make poor decisions. Can this be turned around? Sure, but it will take a major shift in policy and the U.S. population needs to understand that this is about survival. Their very way of life, socially and economically, is being threatened in more ways than one because they choose to be uninformed. Our strategy for far too long has been focused on a defensive strategy rather than an offensive strategy. When we have a president and administration who believes that climate change is the cause of terrorism, we have some real problems. Our people can no longer be naive about the world or be complacent about their own security here at home.
If we are tired of war or unprepared as a nation to take this war to our enemies then we need to retreat home to the security of our self-declared “Safe Space”, continue our poor existence with blinders on and take what’s coming to us. If we feel that this war is necessary for us to fight, then we need to get off our high horse and be prepared to get bloody because that is what it’s going to take to change their ideology. Forget about nation building; that’s gotten us nowhere and has never worked until we brought a society to its knees and they capitulated. We will not get the Islamic world to change their thought process by passing out money or building McDonald’s and KFC chains in their communities. However, bringing death and destruction quickly and violently to bring their culture to its knees has worked all throughout history. Some poor Islamic nation is going to have to be the example of that kind of horror that sends a message throughout the Islamic world that enough is enough. They need to fully understand that with every transgression there will be horrific consequences. When the rest of the Islamic world asks “Why?”, we need to be prepared to explain to them that “this was Allah’s will” and that they and their people had committed great sins for if not then why did their people reap such a punishment.
John Hurth is a former Special Forces soldier who served multiple overseas tours in support of the Global War on Terror. He’s now the chief instructor at Tyr Group, which provides training to members of the military as well as civilians, and the author of the Combat Tracking Guide.