Though the name “War on Terror” was invented by the administration of U.S.
Though the name “War on Terror” was invented by the administration of U.S. president
The 1990’s witnessed a rise in the frequency and lethality of international terrorism, principally from the Middle East, perpetrated by Islamic religious fanatics and culminating in the attacks against the United States on
After the 9/11 attacks, the United States’ efforts under President Bush to combat international terrorism–particularly from al-Qaeda and its associates and affiliates–was called the War (or Global War) on Terror. Taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama dropped this controversial phrase in favor of “Overseas Contingency Operation.” Nevertheless, the United States and Europe, as President Obama announced during his April, 2009, trip to the Continent, continued to face the very real threat of international terrorism.
Terrorism is not a new phenomenon–the 1960’s and 1970’s witnessed terrorism–nor has it been limited to foreign perpetrators. However, the decline and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the rise of
Initially, the world, including the United States, was slow in realizing–much less confronting–the growing danger posed by Islamic terrorism. Indeed, the
Historically, the United States has suffered few terrorist incidents and thus on September 11, 2001, had little experience dealing with terrorism, such that the federal government was slow and unprepared to confront this growing threat. Even Western Europe, which had suffered acts of terrorism over the preceding few decades, seemed to have failed to appreciate the growing threat posed by Islamic terrorism. For example, as a brutal
Preoccupied with events in Europe as the Cold War came to an end, the breakup of Yugoslavia and the ensuing
Bin Laden, like countless other Muslims, had gone to Afghanistan to wage
Before the mass casualties inflicted by the attacks of 9/11, the United States and the rest of the world regarded terrorism as a problem for law enforcement rather than the military, emphasizing the arrest and prosecution of terrorists, such that where military force was used, it was limited to missile or air strikes designed to punish rather than destroy the terrorists and their safe havens. Until 9/11, despite several attacks overseas, the United States did not view terrorism as an act of war, and consequently airport security was lax and ineffective. Not until after 9/11 did President Bush declare a War on Terror, announcing to the world on November 6, 2001, that “you are either with us [the United States] or against us” in the global war on terrorism. Until 9/11, neither President Bill Clinton nor President Bush regarded terrorism as much of a threat to the United States. For that matter, the world was as surprised and horrified as Americans were at the ability of al-Qaeda to inflict such death and destruction (more than twenty-seven hundred people died in New York alone) on 9/11.
Despite the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which had killed six people and injured more than one thousand, and the 1996 bombing of the
It is worth remarking, however, that no political support existed among either Democrats or Republicans–or among the American people–for launching an invasion or even a limited ground campaign in Afghanistan, where the Taliban government had granted al-Qaeda sanctuary in 1996. In 1998, America still suffered from a false sense of invulnerability against terrorism, and therefore neither the will nor the support existed for overthrowing the Taliban regime and depriving al-Qaeda of its sanctuary and bases in Afghanistan. In 2000, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the U.S. Navy ship
The USS Cole, after a terrorist attack in Yemeni waterways in October, 2000, possibly by the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army.
The attacks of 9/11, however, shattered America’s sense of invulnerability and, tragically, literally brought home the threat posed by al-Qaeda. Like his predecessor, it was not until faced with a crisis–this time, the 9/11 attacks–that President Bush took decisive action against al-Qaeda and international terrorism, launching the War on Terror with the stated aim of destroying al-Qaeda and states sponsoring or supporting terrorism. There was a strong outpouring of sympathy and support for the United States from most of the world as the 9/11 attacks united much of the world in solidarity with the Americans against al-Qaeda and terrorism. One month after 9/11, the United States, along with Britain, invaded Afghanistan, and two months later they overthrew the Taliban regime, inflicting heavy casualties on both Taliban and al-Qaeda forces as U.S. and British troops and their Afghan allies in the Northern Alliance pursued fleeing militants. However, despite the swift collapse and defeat of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri eluded capture or death, presumably fleeing during the December, 2001, Battle of
On March 20, 2003, the United States and Britain invaded Iraq to overthrow
Although the situation in Iraq improved, conditions in Afghanistan worsened as al-Qaeda terrorists fled from Iraq to Afghanistan, political instability consumed Pakistan and sapped its willingness to confront Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists hiding in Pakistan, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda regrouped and launched an insurgency against U.S. forces and the democratic Afghan government of Hamid Karzai. As American military deaths in Afghanistan rose by 35 percent in 2008 (and to 113 soldiers killed in February, 2009), President
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates and associates have resorted to largely unconventional weapons to wage terrorism, using vehicles, boats (as in the case of the USS Cole attack), and airplanes (as on 9/11) to inflict mass casualties. In Afghanistan and Iraq, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), to say nothing of deadly ambush attacks, have killed hundreds of American and Allied, including NATO, troops. Al-Qaeda has also been known to rely on
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban lack firepower and technology, particularly the artillery, air power, and night-vision equipment used by U.S. forces. Therefore, they generally avoid open, prolonged engagements and favor ambushes and hit-and-run tactics. These serve to frustrate and demoralize their adversary, denying the enemy a decisive victory and thus prolonging the conflict. In so doing, the Taliban and al-Qaeda hope to win the psychological battle of wearing down the enemy by making the war seem endless and thus unwinnable.
The organization of forces in the war against terrorism is as nebulous and varied as it is vast. On the U.S. and Allied side, military organization comprises military and civilian departments within the U.S. government and the military forces and government offices of other Allied nations. Although the military structure and interrelationships of the myriad terrorist and extremist groups worldwide would take more than one volume to cover in detail, some rundown of the main players in the War on Terror is helpful.
Each terrorist group has a different structure, and often those structures change as soon as Western intelligence can classify them. Although al-Qaeda and the Taliban dominate the headlines, groups classified as current threats are not limited by geography. Other groups involved in the War on Terror include Colombia’s
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush created the Department of
In addition to the surge, al-Qaeda’s killing of Muslim insurgents contributed to the improvement in Iraq’s security, encouraging many Iraqis to turn against al-Qaeda through so-called awakening councils and enabling the United States to recruit former insurgents and terrorists to fight al-Qaeda.
Whether such a surge can succeed in Afghanistan is a different matter, since conditions in that country are very different from those in Iraq. Unlike Iraq, terrain in Afghanistan is dotted with high mountains and deep valleys and caves, along with treacherous weather, especially in the winter. There is little sense of a national identity or unity among the people of Afghanistan, and politics are based instead on ethnic (tribal, clan, and linguistic) identities. The country lacks a history of a centralized government and, in addition to its rough terrain, its lack of a national system of roads makes travel difficult. Furthermore, the presence of a porous mountainous border with Pakistan to the east–and vast, essentially anarchic border regions (the North-West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas), autonomous from Pakistani government control–gives al-Qaeda and the Taliban sanctuary.
In his first year in office, President
A small portion of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, a few days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
On the other side, the
In any case, withdrawing or abandoning Afghanistan would not make the United States safe from al-Qaeda and future terrorism; such a course of action would only embolden al-Qaeda and Afghanistan would once again become the terrorist safe haven it was during the 1990’s. It seems likely that the War on Terror will continue for a very long time, and the best-case scenario is that the United States will stop and maybe even reverse much of the surge in al-Qaeda and Taliban attacks.
Despite President Obama’s change in nomenclature, the War on Terror is an ongoing conflict, with new primary sources being generated almost daily. There are a few indispensable pieces, without which the War on Terror cannot be fully understood.
Combs, Cynthia. Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2008. “Homeland Security: Protecting Airliners from Terrorist Missiles.” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress RL31741, February 16, 2006. Jacobson, Sid, and Ernie Colón. After 9/11: America’s War on Terror, 2001-. New York: Hill and Wang, 2008. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. Thomas H. Kean, chair, and Lee H. Hamilton, vice chair. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. Afghanistan: The Forgotten War. Documentary. Public Broadcasting Service, 2008. The Road to 9/11. Documentary. Kunhardt Productions, 2005. Suicide Killers, Documentary. City Lights Entertainment, 2007. The War Against Al Qaeda. Documentary. The History Channel, 2008.
Warfare in Iraq
Warfare in Afghanistan: The United States
Warfare and the United Nations
Global Military Capabilities