War on Terror Just Getting Started

By: Greg C. Reeson

In the introduction to Strategic Forecasting’s 2008 forecast, Dr. George Friedman writes that “…the U.S.-jihadist war is entering its final phase,” and that “…the destruction of al Qaeda’s strategic capabilities now allows the United States to shift its posture…and enables Washington to begin drawing down its Middle Eastern forces.” He could not be more wrong.

To begin, we are not fighting a “jihadist” war. We are fighting a global war on terrorism that involves the use of all the elements of national power: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic. Our fight is not just with the “jihadists” in the Middle East, but with those individuals worldwide that resort to terrorist tactics in pursuit of their political objectives. They could be Basque separatists in Spain, Taliban elements in Pakistan, or the Irish Republican Army in the United Kingdom. They could be Chechens operating from Georgian territory, Islamic fighters in the Philippines, or Kurdish rebels attacking Turkey from safe havens in northern Iraq. The notion that the U.S. effort against perpetrators of terrorism is entering its final phase is misguided, as is the belief that American forces will begin significantly drawing down troop levels in the Middle East.

The United States has already begun to redeploy some forces from Iraq, with one brigade that is not being replaced already at home and four more scheduled to come home without replacement by the summer. But the reality is that we will maintain far in excess of 100,000 troops there for the foreseeable future. The security gains achieved with additional troops and changed tactics could easily be lost if too many American forces are withdrawn before Iraqi forces are capable of stepping in for them. Political accommodation has begun at the local level in Iraq, but an outside arbiter of peace will be required for years to ensure that the country does not slide back toward civil war.

In Afghanistan, commanders on the ground have requested additional forces to prepare for an expected spring offensive by the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is considering the request, and the 24 th Marine Expeditionary Unit is packing its bags in preparation. The Afghan government is fragile, the army is making incremental progress, and U.S. and NATO forces will be around for a very long time. In South Asia, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is barely holding on since the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Islamic extremists are doing their best to foment violence and unrest that could push a critical ally in the war on terror toward complete collapse.

The United States is assisting the Philippines in its ongoing battles with Abu Sayyaf, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. We are in the process of getting AFRICOM, our newest combatant command, up and running to deal with threats in Africa like the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Hamas and Hezbollah threaten a key ally, Israel, and Syrian terrorist tactics endanger a fragile democracy in Lebanon.

But it’s not just Islamists that are responsible for terror. The FARC in Columbia, the IRA in Northern Ireland, the Maoist Shining Path and Tupac Amaru in Peru, militias in the United States, and too many others to mention all pose a threat, and all must be dealt with. How we deal with these groups and the threats they pose involves much more than the involvement of U.S. military forces in Iraq or the Middle East.

We use diplomatic relations with other states to strengthen our intelligence and law enforcement capabilities, to support our allies, and to deter our foes. We use the media and our presence around the world to provide information about America’s support for democratic rule and opposition to tyrants who sponsor ruthless attacks on innocent civilians. We employ military action when necessary, and use the strength of the American economy to reward those who engage us peacefully and punish those who do not.

Al Qaeda has been dealt a severe blow, but the United States will maintain a large military presence in the Middle East for years to come. And our efforts to fight terrorism will continue around the world. The U.S. is not in a “jihadist” war, but a global war on terror that involves all the elements and instruments of power available to us as a nation. And because there will always be some in the world who feel desperate enough to resort to violence in order to make political gains, it will be a war without end.

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