August 8, 2005
The new American strategy in the war on terror is arguably the most comprehensive since the attacks of September 11, 2001. This strategy originated when U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld sent a memo to his staff in October 2003, wanting to know whether the war on terrorism was being won, and if they were killing more terrorists than were being recruited. This is not to say there had not been serious progress made since 9/11 in those two years, two state sponsors of terrorism had already been taken out (the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq).
The planners started by looking at what each agency thought on how best to fight the war. What the planners found was that the various services, commands, and even agencies in the Pentagon each had different ideas as to how to deal with terrorism. That had to change. So, the planners went to work identifying what terrorists needed. There were eight items in the list: Ideological support, funds, safe havens, communications and movement, foot soldiers, leadership, weapons, and access to targets. Each of these are needed to sustain a terrorist organization over the long haul. Foot soldiers are required to carry out attacks, for instance. Funds are needed to support the organization. Safe havens are required for training and planning. Leadership handles the planning. Communications and movement are needed for coordinating operations and to evade pursuit. Weapons and access to targets are needed to carry out actual attacks.
The Pentagon still plans to go for big fish like Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and others. However, the enemy has been broadened to include extreme Islamist groups of all stripes. This is due to an enhanced understanding of how groups have worked together. Three areas will get more emphasis. First, assisting countries dealing with terrorism, then going after supporters of terrorism, and working with the State Department in its effort to reduce the appeal of terrorism. Often this involves humanitarian work like the relief efforts of the tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2003. The military is also carrying out more information operations which have been controversial in the past.
Part of this change has come about because of the success in taking out the terrorist-sponsoring regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of terrorist groups, like Abu Sayyaf (Philippines) and Jemaat Islamiya (Indonesia), operate in countries that are not hostile to the United States. In those cases, the best alternative is to assist those countries in the efforts against the groups.
Finally, the task of coordinating these efforts, and for getting a global perspective has been given to Special Operations Command. This flexible command not only has been carrying out assistance and training since the 1960s, but also has gathered intelligence (often in preparing the battlefield), and can carry out quick operations (like the raid against Mullah Omars compound in October, 2001). These efforts will now expand.
Ultimately, the Pentagon is shifting gears getting ready for a long, generation conflict more akin to the Cold War as opposed to World War II. The Pentagon will be using every tool in its toolbox, from training the forces of friendly nations (as is being done in Iraq and Afghanistan), to public diplomacy, to military force in fighting the war on terror. Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)