Martha Crenshaw

Author's Articles

Policy Roundtable: 17 Years After September 11

Policy Roundtable: 17 Years After September 11

To understand what has gone both right and wrong since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy.

Book Review Roundtable: America’s Hot and Cold Relationship with Its Counterterrorism Partners

Book Review Roundtable: America’s Hot and Cold Relationship with Its Counterterrorism Partners

Stephen Tankel's new book, With Us and Against Us, looks at the troubled relationship between America and its counterterrorism partners in the Middle East and North Africa.

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1. Introduction: A Most Infamous Day: Marking the 17th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

By Ryan Evans The 9/11 attacks and Pearl Harbor have often been compared. Not long after the towers fell, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, a future secretary of defense, said, “This is the second Pearl Harbor. I don't think that I overstate it.”[1] A senior E.U. official said that same day, “It is the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor. This is one of those few days in life that one can say will actually change everything.” Around the world and especially in the United States, these comparisons are being repeated today. But marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is fundamentally unlike observing that of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” Less than four years after Japanese imperialist forces struck at America’s Pacific Fleet as it sat in Pearl Harbor, Japan surrendered unconditionally, submitting itself to a military occupation by its adversary. Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks, however, the kindest thing that can be said of the American record against the jihadist movement is that it is mixed. While the United States has succeeded in preventing another mass casualty attack on its soil, its terrorist enemies continue to wreak havoc in Africa, the Middle East, as well as South and Southeast Asia, and have repeatedly attacked Europe. Sept. 11 is a day that, like Dec. 7, lives in infamy, but it is an infamy that today is largely defined by America’s strategic incompetence and confusion, which have played no small role in transforming a vicious tragedy into an expensive — and often fruitless — geopolitical preoccupation that has seen the United States and its allies pay dearly with both blood and treasure without making the world any safer. With the benefit of 17 years of hindsight, one would be hard pressed to imagine a worse way to have honored and avenged the lives of the 3,000 people who perished on this day in 2001. To understand what has gone both right and wrong, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy. The Contributions Without the durable alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the attacks might not have taken place and the last 17 years surely would have played out quite differently. Tricia Bacon of American University helps us understand this remarkable alliance and why it has proven so resilient in the face of an all-out assault by some of the world’s most advanced military powers. As Bacon observes, there is a considerable asymmetry in this relationship. For the Taliban, there have been great costs and marginal benefits. For al-Qaeda, great benefits and marginal costs. This case is perhaps the foremost example of America’s “larger failure to prevent or disrupt alliances between militant groups.” These jihadist alignments, however, are often not as stable as the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which has posed other problems for America’s global counter-terrorism campaign. Focusing on Syria and the Sahel, Martha Crenshaw of Stanford University assesses the regularly shifting, and often “bewildering,” ties between various militant groups arrayed against the West. As she explains, “These complicated and often obscure interactions among jihadist militants make it hard for governments or international institutions to understand the adversary or predict what will happen.” Even after suffering undeniable military defeats, these groups are able to reconstitute themselves elsewhere with remarkable consistency, calling into question the sustained special operations missions and interventions meant to crush them. America, of course, is not fighting jihadist groups alone. Cooperation and coordination with the governments of Muslim-majority states has been a critical, yet frustrating, part of the war on terrorism. Drawing on his recent book, Stephen Tankel of American University explains how these partners “both help and hinder U.S. counterterrorism efforts.”[2] Even when Washington and a partner state find their interests closely aligned and see a jihadist group as a foe that must be fiercely fought, many Americans find themselves troubled by often repressive methods employed by the partner. And often, America has different priorities than a partner state, either because the local authorities see a jihadist group as useful or simply because they don’t see defeating it as especially important compared to other goals. It is undeniable that there have been some major successes in the global war on terrorism. Speaking as an intelligence professional, Michael Dempsey — formerly the acting director of national intelligence, the deputy director of national intelligence, and President Barack Obama’s primary intelligence briefer — walks us through these victories as well as some notable failures. The U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have protected the homeland from another mass casualty plot and U.S. military forces, with the support of coalition partners, have more recently regained the battlefield initiative against jihadists in the Middle East. At the same time, however, jihadist groups remain adaptive, the socio-political drivers that sustain their ranks are unresolved, and Washington is prone to “unforced errors” that, in the end, are gifts to America’s enemies. How have American thinking and counter-terrorism efforts evolved in the last 17 years? David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside, all of the U.S. Naval War College, join forces to answer this question and others in a wide-ranging and creative article that draws on everything from the great naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan to Burmese pythons on the loose in Florida to Washington’s alleged reorientation toward great-power competition. “Much like the futility of trying to stop the growth of the python population,” they write, “our failure to reduce the scale of global jihadism is more obvious than ever.” Brown, Hoyt, and Whiteside call for a “shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict,” but are decidedly skeptical of Washington’s ability to get there. This roundtable ends where it all began: Afghanistan. Trevor Thrall of George Mason University and Erik Goepner of the Cato Institute examine how the “safe haven fallacy” has sustained poor decision-making on Afghanistan across three presidencies. Thrall and Goepner disassemble the assumptions of the safe haven fallacy — describing it as “an argument for endless war based on unwarranted worst-case scenario assumptions” — and call for Washington to finally end its involvement in the conflict. The Trump administration, they correctly argue, are guilty of relying on shoddy logic if its officials truly believe that with far fewer troops on the ground they can get any closer to something resembling victory than previous administrations have. “Nothing the United States is doing,” they write, “will encourage the Taliban to change its course, regardless of how much resolve Trump and his generals have.” Ryan Evans is the publisher of the Texas National Security Review and the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.  

2. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: The Alliance that Started the Forever War

By Tricia Bacon Today marks 17 years since 9/11 and nearly the same since America’s war in Afghanistan started. Launched on October 7, 2001, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan quickly overthrew the Taliban regime after their leader, Mullah Omar, refused to hand over Osama bin Laden.[3] While America’s strategic objective in Afghanistan has often been unclear,[4] the Taliban’s refusal to give up al-Qaeda — and by extension the fear that an Afghanistan dominated by the Taliban would remain a safe haven for international terrorists[5] — has been one of the primary motives for the “forever war.”[6] The alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has endured for over 20 years. Between a crushing military campaign by the world’s foremost military alliance and the realpolitik considerations that seemingly should have led the Taliban to break ties long ago, the fact that they haven’t is remarkable. As in other alliances,[7] the two groups remain engaged in cooperation with mutual expectations about consultation and cooperation in the future. An alliance does not mean that partners have merged, operate in lockstep, or even always adhere to one another’s input. In this case, they certainly have not, do not, and they sometimes ignore one another’s counsel.[8] Allies can have areas of major divergence. And the Taliban and al-Qaeda certainly do. Since the inception of their relationship, the two groups have differed on their strategic objectives, priorities, and tactics. The Taliban continues to be staunchly focused on Afghanistan and has never embraced al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ambitions. For its part, al-Qaeda has consistently pursued its agenda with a disregard for how doing so has affected the Taliban. Yet they cooperate in Afghanistan and expect future cooperation and consultation in that realm. They share a desire to expel U.S. forces from Afghanistan and re-instate Taliban rule. And they now have a mutual rival in the Islamic State. But even these common interests do not fully capture what binds these two groups into their long-standing, but difficult, partnership. Their relationship has evolved over time. Though Bin Laden had pledged bayat to Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda was “an organization supporting a state” during the 1990s.[9] Now the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda nor does it need al-Qaeda’s support for its insurgency. Al-Qaeda gains more from the relationship, not least of all a role in the insurgency in Afghanistan and an alternative to the Islamic State that it can promote to discredit its former ally.[10] Al-Qaeda also gets the prospect of a future safe haven should the Taliban return to power, though the Taliban’s willingness to provide such sanctuary is uncertain.[11] The alliance has proven resilient and thus poses a hurdle to efforts to find a negotiated settlement to end the war.[12] Heavy Costs for Limited Benefits for the Taliban The Taliban has incurred tremendous costs for its alliance with al-Qaeda over more than two decades. The relationship contributed to the Taliban’s international isolation while it was in power, including a rupture with Saudi Arabia: one of only three states to recognize the Taliban government.[13] Al-Qaeda’s presence was a source of internal strife within the Taliban,[14] with some urging Mullah Omar to oust the group.[15] Some in the Taliban were particularly frustrated by Bin Laden’s declarations of war and al-Qaeda’s acts of terrorism against the United States in the years prior to 2001.[16] But Washington’s responses actually increased the Taliban’s support for al-Qaeda.[17] Of course, most notably, Mullah Omar’s refusal to handover Bin Laden after 9/11 led to the United States’ invasion and the downfall of the Taliban regime. The persistence of their alliance is all the more remarkable when you consider how little the Taliban needs al-Qaeda now. However, it does accrue some benefits. Though al-Qaeda was the cause of the U.S. invasion,[18] it has steadfastly supported the Taliban’s insurgency. The Taliban has benefited from al-Qaeda’s expertise since the onset of the conflict,[19] as it did against the Northern Alliance during the 1990s.[20] Al-Qaeda helped train local Taliban commanders to fabricate improvised explosives beginning in the early days of the insurgency.[21] The terrorist group’s personnel also offer other specialized and technological skills,[22] leading one leading scholar on Afghanistan to refer to al-Qaeda operators as “subcontractors” for the Taliban.[23] Al-Qaeda has assisted the Taliban with special operations and terrorist attacks, offering experienced supplemental manpower.[24] The jihadist group rarely conducts or claims attacks in Afghanistan independently; instead it contributes to attacks by the Taliban and its partner then decides how to claim responsibility. But, by al-Qaeda’s own admission, “the Taliban almost does not need us.”[25] The Taliban’s greatest strength is its ability to capitalize on widespread local grievances and the Afghan government’s lack of legitimacy. It has ample Afghan personnel, and it controls or contests at least 44 percent of Afghanistan’s districts.[26] Even those estimates vastly understate the Taliban’s influence.[27] In addition, at times, especially during the 1990s, the Taliban needed funds from al-Qaeda.[28] That is no longer the case. The Taliban’s coffers are well-stocked through its relations with various patrons, including Pakistan,[29] Iran, and Russia,[30] as well as through its involvement in the drug trade in Afghanistan.[31] It also garners funds locally from extortion and protection rackets.[32] Furthermore, it enjoys substantial support from donor networks in the Gulf.[33] Thus, to the extent that al-Qaeda provides the Taliban with resources, they are not pivotal to the Taliban’s financial health. While al-Qaeda and the Taliban share antipathy towards the Islamic State, there are no indications that the Taliban has needed al-Qaeda’s assistance in forcibly challenging the Islamic State’s local affiliate, the Islamic State in the Khorasan.[34] Nonetheless, some in the Taliban still have a soft spot for al-Qaeda. As recently as 2015, al-Qaeda operated a massive training facility in Kandahar until it was destroyed by the United States.[35] Whether the facility was an anomaly or an indication that the Taliban remains willing to offer al-Qaeda operating space in its territory remains unclear. In addition, the Haqqani Network faction of the Taliban has long been close to al-Qaeda.[36] They have conducted joint operations and al-Qaeda has benefited from Haqqani protection. The Haqqanis’ support for al-Qaida is more important than ever since the faction’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, ascended to the number two spot in the Taliban in 2015. Mostly Benefits with Few Costs for al-Qaeda Through its alliance with the Taliban, al-Qaeda participates in the insurgency in Afghanistan, thereby maintaining a foothold in a campaign against the United States with symbolic importance in the broader global jihadist movement as the site of the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989. But, as discussed, its involvement is selective, and the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda, which limits its losses and the resources it must invest in the effort. This arrangement works well for al-Qaeda because the insurgency in Afghanistan is not its top priority. In recent years, some of its skilled military and explosives experts have even left Afghanistan for Syria.[37] By Ayman al-Zawahiri’s own admission, Afghanistan is on the periphery of the larger battle in which Iraq and Syria command more importance.[38] Since the Islamic State’s emergence, al-Qaeda has garnered additional benefits from its alliance with the Taliban. Al-Qaeda sought to discredit the Islamic State’s claims to have formed a caliphate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph. It did so by touting the Taliban’s leader as the “true” leader of the faithful.[39] This effort initially backfired in the wake of humiliating revelations in 2015 that Mullah Omar had died in 2013.[40] Nonetheless, al-Qaeda stuck with the approach, hailing the Taliban as the only theologically legitimate alternative to the Islamic State.[41] Prospects Going Forward The alliance between these two movements has long defied the apparent cost-benefit calculation, suggesting that their ties run deeper,[42] especially after 17 years of fighting together. Their bond was once attributed primarily to the personal relationship between Mullah Omar and Bin Laden.[43] Thus, Bin Laden’s death in 2011 and the revelation of Mullah Omar’s 2013 death seemed to be as an opening for the Taliban to break with al-Qaeda.[44] Once again, in defiance of predictions, the alliance persisted. However, Zawahiri does not enjoy the same standing as Bin Laden with the Taliban or even among al-Qaeda’s other allies.[45] Mullah Omar’s successors have suffered from their own legitimacy shortfalls. Consequently, they have sought to navigate Zawahiri’s declarations of bayat carefully. Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour publicly accepted Zawahiri’s pledge,[46] only to subsequently remove the announcement from the Taliban’s website. The Taliban’s current leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has not publicly endorsed Zawahiri’s most recent pledge.[47] The Taliban has also undertaken some rhetorical maneuvers to distance itself from al-Qaeda publicly. Most notably, the Taliban’s current leader pledged that the group will not allow Afghanistan to be used for attacks on other countries.[48] While proponents of negotiations are encouraged by the move, al-Qaeda is probably relatively untroubled by such declarations. It does not and never has felt compelled to consult the Taliban about its operations outside of Afghanistan: It is beyond the scope of their alliance. Moreover, the Taliban’s rhetorical steps have been uneven and contradictory; it has also issued statements in recent years seemingly touting ties with al-Qaeda.[49] With the obvious exception of the rupture with the Islamic State, al-Qaeda’s other alliances have also proven resilient. Its affiliates remained loyal despite efforts by the Islamic State to entice them. Al-Qaeda has also sustained a web of relationships with other militant groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have allowed it to survive the past 17 years. Implications for Negotiations There is renewed hope for negotiations since President Donald Trump announced a willingness to engage in direct talks with the Taliban.[50] However, it is hard to imagine the United States being satisfied with a negotiated settlement that does not include the Taliban abdicating al-Qaeda. How much of a stumbling block does this pose? In my experience, officials working on Afghanistan tend to be more optimistic about the prospects of persuading the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda than those working on counter-terrorism. While the cost-benefit analysis offered above seemingly favors the interpretation of former, history is with the latter. Determining the Taliban’s view is difficult because proponents of negotiations within the Taliban are likely the same individuals who would like to break ties with al-Qaeda anyway, so their views on the topic may not represent important factions within the Taliban. Conversely, at least some of those within the Taliban who oppose negotiations would probably also reject renouncing al-Qaeda. In other words, Taliban leadership will have to strike a difficult, perhaps impossible, balance between these two positions.[51] At the same time, Taliban leaders have to be vigilant to avoid fragmentation: a major hurdle to serious negotiations and an eventual political settlement.[52] Though the Taliban has shown remarkable unity to date, Mullah Omar’s successors do not enjoy the same levels of loyalty and deference from Taliban members as he did. The Taliban lost power because its revered founding leader refused to relinquish al-Qaeda. While the insurgency in Afghanistan is certainly not about protecting al-Qaeda, reversing Mullah Omar’s 2001 positon will not be a small feat for any Taliban leader, especially one whose grasp on the various factions within the organization is not fully secure. One British official recently shared his view with me that the Taliban is holding on to severing ties with al-Qaeda as a bargaining chip, which it expects to exchange only for a major concession from the United States. If this is correct, the key question becomes: What is Washington is willing concede? Unfortunately, America’s inability to drive a wedge between al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not an anomaly. It is indicative of a larger failure to prevent or disrupt alliances between militant groups, despite the centrality of such relationships in the threat to the United States since 2001. In the case of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, this failure has been particularly costly. Tricia Bacon is an assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, fellow at Fordham University's Center for National Security, and non-resident fellow at George Washington’s Program on Extremism. She is the author of Why Terrorist Groups Form International Alliances (University of Pennsylvania, 2018). She was previously a counterterrorism analyst at the U.S. State Department from 2003 to 2013.  

3. The Long Aftermath of 9/11: How Terrorism Doesn’t End

By Martha Crenshaw When American leaders declared a global war on terror in 2001, they warned that victory was distant and elusive. But it is doubtful that any of them foresaw that 17 years later, American and allied troops would still be in Afghanistan facing a resurgent Taliban in the longest war in American history. Nor is it likely that they expected that American counterterrorism operations would be underway in 76 countries by 2017, or that through fiscal year 2018 the cost of the war on terror would be $5.6 trillion.[53] Certainly no one would have thought that in 2014 an “Islamic State” would conquer sizable territory in Syria and Iraq and institute a caliphate governed by its own intolerant version of Islamic law. Indeed, it is clear that jihadist terrorism is lasting much longer than previous waves or cycles of terrorism.[54] Although the 9/11 attacks precipitated the “Global War on Terror,” the jihadist trend had started long before. Its origins lie in the 1980s resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Abdullah Azzam’s famous appeal to Sunni Muslims worldwide to join in jihad to expel the infidel occupiers. The organization behind the 9/11 attacks and the original target of the war on terrorism was al-Qaeda. Legally, the justification for American military action in the war on terror is the threat from al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda is no longer the unitary actor it was on 9/11, and it also has a major challenger for overall jihadist primacy in its former partner, the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Each has affiliates and followers around the world.[55] The threat has thus been dispersed. There is no single monolithic jihadist adversary. Yet it is the fragmented and shifting character of jihadism that makes it so persistent and so hard to combat. Relationships among the different actors behind global jihadism are fluid and variable. These actors include a bewildering variety of individuals acting on inspiration, social networks, underground conspiracies, foreign fighters, civil war rebels, dissident splinter factions, franchise operations, loose inter-group alliances, and organizational mergers.[56] Their connections flow easily across national borders. Groups constantly align and realign themselves as friends or rivals as they change their strategic expectations about the future of the conflict in which they are involved. They are often embedded in local struggles and compete or cooperate with nationalists or separatists. Jihadists may be united in an overall belief that violence is both necessary and justified to bring about the liberation of Muslim lands from foreign oppression and restore a just order founded on original principles of Islam. But they are divided along lines of what is permissible in the struggle, the appropriate targets, the best tactics and timing, and where to fight. Is the most dangerous opponent the local government — the “near enemy” — or the United States and its Western allies — the “far enemy”? Is it permissible to target fellow Muslims, especially Sunnis? Should civilians be attacked? How important is unity among jihadist groups? These complicated and often obscure interactions among jihadist militants make it hard for governments or international institutions to understand the adversary or predict what will happen. Even with the best intelligence, governments operate under conditions of high uncertainty. Control of outcomes is impossible. Interventions to overthrow authoritarian governments, for example, result in the emergence of multiple contenders for power, among them diehard jihadists who are likely to gain ascendancy over other less experienced and less well-armed groups. The consequences of counterterrorist measures are often unexpected, unintended, and even counterproductive. Actions intended to defeat or undermine a single organization have “ricochet” effects on other groups, often upsetting the balance of power among them. Sometimes government repression stimulates cooperation that strengthens the jihadist movement. But governments most often seek to sow dissension in the ranks — causing splintering that leads to more violence and escalation of the conflict. Offers to negotiate might attract some relatively moderate groups but provoke the more extreme to heightened violence. Even if a group is defeated within the boundaries of one state, it may simply be displaced to a weaker neighbor, or the struggle can be globalized if losing civil war rebels turn to transnational terrorism. The United States, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in Syria There are numerous examples of how interactions among militant groups have impeded the effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts. Consider American policy toward al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Syria.[57] Al-Nusra was founded as an outpost of the Islamic State of Iraq, then nominally a branch of al-Qaeda central. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq recognized the Syrian civil war as a golden opportunity for jihadist expansion. Although the mainstream Syrian resistance to the Assad regime was ambivalent toward any group linked to al-Qaeda, its presence in the opposition in effect tainted the whole enterprise. At the least, it gave Assad and later his Russian patrons an excuse for condemning all opposition as jihadist extremism. At most, it was the decisive factor that ensured Western support to the rebels would be limited. When Assad responded to the initial popular uprisings with indiscriminate brutality, jihadists gained credibility. Their fighting prowess also helped. As the conflict intensified al-Nusra’s military contribution became increasingly important. Thus, when in December 2012 the United States declared al-Nusra a “foreign terrorist organization,” even committed secular nationalists came to its defense.[58] U.S. efforts to provide covert assistance exclusively to non-jihadist forces were frequently stymied or diverted due to lack of knowledge of what was going on and inability to monitor the activities of sponsored groups. Congress approved nonlethal assistance in 2013 and a Department of Defense train-and-equip mission for vetted Syrian opposition groups in 2014. The Pentagon’s effort was abandoned in 2015, and the CIA initiative was cancelled in the summer of 2017 after a cost of about $1 billion.[59] The programs suffered from diversions of supplies, defections, and deadly losses to al-Nusra attacks. Shortly after these aid programs got under way and al-Nusra was declared the enemy, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State parted ways, with al-Nusra remaining loyal to al-Qaeda. Over time American aid to its nationalist competitors probably made al-Nusra more extreme, but the Islamic State was much more ruthless and ambitious. It also exhibited remarkable military capability in seizing Fallujah and Ramadi in early 2014 and then Mosul in June. With this surprise victory, the Islamic State declared the establishment of a caliphate in the occupied parts of Syria and Iraq, thus becoming a global rival to al-Qaeda. The United States and its allies began airstrikes against the Islamic State, justifying them in terms of defending Iraq as requested.  An impressive “Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL” assembled. Shortly thereafter, the United States began airstrikes that reportedly hit al-Nusra bases in Idlib province, although the attacks were justified by reference to a mysterious Khorasan Group, described as an external operations branch of al-Qaeda engaged in planning attacks against the West and thus a direct threat to U.S. security.[60] The attacks may have weakened al-Nusra but they also apparently served to deepen loyalty among Syrian jihadists, including the Ahrar al-Sham group, an ally of Turkey as of 2015.[61] The offensive also deepened al-Nusra’s hostility toward the American-supported resistance (at the time the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds). Consequently, al-Nusra embarked on a military campaign against selected U.S.-backed groups, even those that had prudently restricted their attacks to the Islamic State.[62] Paradoxically, the fact that U.S. air strikes targeted al-Nusra generated resentment among the general body of Syrian resistance fighters. At the same time, predictably, the damage inflicted by U.S. strikes on Islamic State command and control systems advantaged its rivals, both Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra. The offensive against the Islamic State was also a boon to the regime and its allies. After Russia intervened in the fall of 2015, shifting patterns of military escalation and negotiation offers split the resistance and further divided Ahrar al-Sham from al-Nusra, which was excluded from the political process initiated late in 2016 with a ceasefire offer guaranteed by Russia and Turkey.[63] The United States did not participate directly in these initiatives, which were led by Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and Turkey, but it supported a negotiated solution to the conflict, preferably through U.N. sponsorship. For al-Nusra, its battlefield strength was no longer the strongest card on the table if negotiations and politics replaced fighting.[64] Organizational twists and turns followed. In July 2016, al-Nusra claimed to have repudiated its affiliation with al-Qaeda and renamed itself the Front for the Conquest of the Levant. In January 2017, it rebranded itself again as the Liberation of the Levant organization (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), proclaimed as an entirely new entity constituted by the merger of smaller groups and breakaway factions with the dominant al-Nusra. Soon it was engaged in a public dispute with al-Qaeda over the break, as Zawahiri criticized the former al-Nusra’s assumption that separating from al-Qaeda would reduce American pressure. Indeed, the United States continued to define the new rebranded Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as an al-Nusra alias and thus still a branch of al-Qaeda, although experts are divided as to whether the split is phony or genuine.[65] It is hard to escape the conclusion that American decision-makers failed to understand why al-Nusra was valuable to the non-jihadist resistance, how the group’s leaders might be ambivalent about the affiliation with al-Qaeda, or when tactical alliances could be sustained across ideological lines. At the same time, the Islamic State was steadily disintegrating under military assault in Iraq and Syria. By the fall of 2017 it had lost almost all the territory it once held, although it was still capable of mounting terrorist attacks within Syria, controlling a small pocket of territory, and maintaining an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq as well as external branches, such as those in North Africa, Egypt, and Afghanistan. An unknown number of the many foreign fighters recruited to ISIL also relocated outside Syria and Iraq. The decline of the Islamic State advantaged other Islamists such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/al-Nusra (now concentrated in Idlib province, the last holdout of the armed opposition to Assad) and Ahrar al-Sham (now part of a Turkish-organized coalition of resistance groups). The erosion of the Islamic State also served the interests of the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian supporters, and by early 2018 the United States had admitted that the government and its allies were winning. The Frustrations of Counterterrorism in North Africa and the Sahel Counterterrorism in Africa has proved frustrating for the United States as well as others concerned with regional stability, not only because of difficulties in dealing with partner governments but also because of the complexity and volatility of the jihadist universe. In August 2018, the U.S. military announced plans to draw down its forces in Africa, where special operations forces have been deployed to aid local governments in combatting jihadist terrorists and insurgents in order to prevent their becoming a direct threat to U.S security. According to The New York Times, roughly 1,200 U.S. special operations troops are on missions in Africa, out of 7,300 worldwide.[66] The initiative began at much lower levels when a Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership led by Washington was first established in 2005. The policy change followed the decision to focus on threats from states, rather than non-state terrorists. In announcing a new national security strategy in January 2018, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis explained “We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great-power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”[67]  The shift also came in the wake of a deadly attack by the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara on American forces in Niger in the fall of 2017. The history of jihadism in North Africa began well before 9/11. A network of Islamist and jihadist groups evolved from thwarted democratic participation and subsequent civil war in Algeria in the 1990s to cross-border expansion into the Sahel region, particularly into Mali.[68] The center is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which is loyal to al-Qaeda central. The much smaller Islamic State unit developed from a splinter of AQIM. Like al-Nusra in Syria, AQIM has rebranded itself as a more inclusive organization. Indeed, both groups appear to be trying to absorb themselves into larger more heterogeneous entities that are more acceptable to local populations. It is hard to know whether these structural adaptations are opportunistic attempts to disguise and conceal intentions and evade retaliation or whether they represent genuine ideological moderation and accommodation to circumstances. AQIM started as a local Algerian rebel organization, although it was tied to global jihadism through the participation of returned Afghan war veterans. Its primary aim was to overthrow the Algerian government.[69] In 2006, it formally signed on as an al-Qaeda franchise, owing in part to its defeat by the Algerian state through a combination of repression and “national reconciliation” initiatives. In addition, the 2003 American invasion of Iraq had inspired a new generation of volunteers for the jihadist cause. By 2011 a powerful AQIM faction in the south of Algeria, its aspirations blocked at home but enriched by lucrative smuggling and kidnapping operations, moved across the border into Mali and formed alliances with dissatisfied local separatists in the north.[70] It remains unclear as to whether the southern faction broke off from the parent organization or acted as a recalcitrant subordinate, especially since the two later reunited. The shift to Mali was aided by the spillover of the Libyan civil war, which erupted following the 2011 overthrow of Qaddafi by NATO forces. State collapse and disorder provided an abundance of weaponry and fighters and offered the prospect of safe haven. The weakness of the Malian state also facilitated the displacement.  The situation became so dire that in January 2013, France intervened at Mali’s request. A U.N. peacekeeping mission was also deployed.[71] Once its authority was more or less re-established, Mali entered into peace negotiations with the non-jihadist separatist groups. These twin military and political pressures stimulated complex organizational realignments in the jihadist network.[72] The renegade southern faction that led the incursion into Mali rejoined AQIM in 2015. The move probably reflected vulnerability to both American and French air strikes as well as disappointment over the fact that Al Qaeda central had not awarded the official recognition that the southern branch had sought. The reunification was also a response to the conclusion of a peace agreement in Mali that excluded jihadists.[73] Moreover, jihadists could maintain fighting capacity by retreating into the chaos of Libya. The organizational reintegration process was marked by a series of terrorist attacks on restaurants, hotels, and beaches frequented by foreigners and tourists. Targets were located in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Ivory Coast. Tellingly, an attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako in November 2015 was timed to coincide with the meeting of the official committee responsible for implementing the peace accord from which jihadists were excluded. AQIM was now definitively a pan-Sahel problem, and in February 2016 the five Sahel countries formed a regional force to combat terrorism (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania).[74] Further jihadist reorganization followed. In March 2017, a video announced the establishment of a supposedly new organization with an anodyne name, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (acronym JNIM). It was supposedly led not by AQIM, the major player, but by the former leader of the Ansar Dine group, an AQIM ally composed largely of Tuareg separatists from Mali. Al-Qaeda officially approved the new cooperative venture. In September 2018 JNIM became the latest addition to the American FTO roster.[75] Its immediate predecessor, designated in May, was the rival Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. The Saharan Islamic State branch had split from AQIM in spring 2015. The main Islamic State organization had already established a major base in Libya, attracting the defection of senior leaders from local Al Qaeda linked groups. After a protracted struggle, the Government of National Accord significantly assisted by United States air support drove the Islamic State out of its stronghold in Sirte in late 2016. The expulsion reduced the Islamic State presence in Libya but in turn may have allowed more space for AQIM. In March 2018, the first U.S. attack on Al Qaeda targets in Libya killed yet another high-ranking commander, while drone strikes continued to target the Islamic State.[76] Conclusion The convoluted inter-organizational dynamics that help perpetuate jihadist militancy are likely to persist, even as the United States withdraws from its foreign commitments. The question is the extent to which this possibly diluted but still potent form of jihadism threatens American and international security. Certainly, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their friends and affiliates are a source of serious instability in states lacking both a robust security apparatus and political legitimacy. It is not outside the realm of possibility that jihadist groups could prevail in present or future civil wars. This threat would likely spark outside military intervention, yet again. The jihadists’ capacity for directing complex mass-casualty terrorist attacks outside their base areas (as opposed to inspiring sporadic amateur “homegrown” terrorism) has not recently been demonstrated, but it could be revived if groups possess secure bases and are persuaded by the old al-Qaeda argument that the far enemy is the obstacle to the defense of Muslims worldwide. Martha Crenshaw is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.  She is the co-author of Countering Terrorism (Brookings, 2017).   

4. With Us and Against Us: Understanding the Mixed Record of U.S. Partners on Counter-Terrorism Cooperation Since 9/11

By Stephen Tankel Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, the anniversary of which we mark today, President George W. Bush gave an address in front of the U.S. Congress. He declared, “This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom. We ask every nation to join us.”[77] It was a clarion call for cooperation, but one that also came with an explicit threat. In the same address, Bush famously drew a line in the sand, saying, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” No government, other than the Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan, seriously entertained siding with al-Qaeda. Yet aligning with America in the “War on Terror” often has not translated to unity of action and purpose, or even effective cooperation. Most partner nations, especially in regions where the terrorists who threaten America are most concentrated, both help and hinder U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. Put another way, they are both with and against the United States. Yet, working with these countries is, for the most part, unavoidable. As the 9/11 Commission Report observed, “Practically every aspect of U.S. counterterrorism strategy relies on international cooperation.”[78] As inter-state competition displaces terrorism as the primary U.S. national security priority, getting more out of partner nations will be critical if the United States is going to do more with less when it comes to counter-terrorism. A core challenge for the United States is to consolidate cooperation where it is good, mitigate risks where it is bad, and get the most out of the space in between. This will require U.S. policymakers and practitioners to devote the same amount of attention and resources to understanding America’s partners as they do to understanding America’s enemies. In my most recent book, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, I analyze the factors that shape counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and partner nations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.[79] Combatting al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIL), and affiliated and associated terrorist groups has required the United States to adapt longstanding relationships with some countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa — and to forge new ones with others. If one considers the totality of U.S. counter-terrorism objectives writ large since 9/11, America has been asking for more over the past 17 years than it did before. The United States has also been seeking more from the countries in the aforementioned regions than ever before. In many cases, the United States is seeking cooperation against terrorists who operate on its partner nations’ territory. When it comes to these partnerships, the dynamics of traditional state-to-state alliances interact with the relations that exist between the partner nation and the terrorist group in question. Alliance dynamics include the nature of the U.S. bilateral relationship with the partner in question, and the instruments of statecraft it can bring to bear. State-to-terrorist relations, on the other hand, are a function of both how a state perceives the nature of a given terrorist threat and qualifies it relative to other threats, and how useful it believes the terrorist group to be. The interplay of these two relationships helps to determine the level and type of counter-terrorism cooperation that exists between the United States and a partner nation in four different areas: partner-led counter-terrorism operations that target terrorists or curtail illegal activities that support them; tactical cooperation, which includes the provision of access, intelligence cooperation, and coordination on detainees; regional cooperation, such as through coalitions or diplomatic initiatives; and “countering violent extremism” programs designed to address radicalization and recruitment.  Managing Expectations Because the United States cannot deploy combat troops to every country where terrorists operate, it works by, with, and through partner nations to take the fight to the enemy. Various factors influence whether a partner will expend effort and resources on a counter-terrorism campaign, including its capacity, strategic culture, and the popularity of the terrorists’ cause. A partner’s relationship with a terrorist group or infrastructure is the most critical factor. Where the United States and its partner share the same threat perceptions and both treat a terrorist group as a belligerent, strong bilateral relations and the provision of security assistance can augment and improve the partner’s counter-terrorism operations. However, the United States has often been unable to keep its partners from adopting repressive counter-terrorism approaches that violate the rule of law and fuel terrorist recruitment. In cases where a partner views a terrorist group as useful and nonthreatening, America’s use of incentives or coercion can sometimes move the needle when it comes to these types of counter-terrorism operations. However, such tactics cannot entirely overcome the dynamics related to terrorist-state relations. And while it may seem like a stretch to use the term “partner” when talking about a state that has positive relations with a terrorist group, Pakistan and Yemen did become critical counter-terrorism partners following the 9/11 attacks. The reasons why a partner does or does not conduct robust counter-terrorism operations targeting terrorist groups or infrastructure matter — or at least they should — when it comes to how the United States uses its instruments of statecraft. If resource shortages are a genuine problem for a state that is sincerely committed to conducting counter-terrorism operations, then capacity building might help it become a more effective partner. Conversely, if a state does not consider a terrorist group to be a threat, then pouring in aid is unlikely to make any difference unless its threat perception changes. This is even truer for states that consider a terrorist group to be useful in some way. Traditional alliance dynamics and instruments of statecraft — such as foreign assistance — are most useful for optimizing counter-terrorism cooperation when it comes to access for basing, troop presence, supply lines, over-flight, and drone strikes. These dynamics are also important for intelligence cooperation and coordination on detainees. Notably, these elements, which fall under the umbrella of tactical cooperation, are the most widespread. The United States cooperates on intelligence, coordinates on detainees, and seeks access from allies and partner nations around the world, regardless of whether terrorists operate on or near their territory. Critically, the absence of shared threat perceptions does not preclude tactical cooperation. States may provide access or limited intelligence cooperation even in cases where their position toward a terrorist group or infrastructure makes domestic counter-terrorism efforts unlikely. Sometimes, pre-existing agreements regarding access or longstanding relationships between intelligence agencies help to facilitate ongoing cooperation. Providing access or intelligence cooperation also enables a partner to service its relationship with the United States (and perhaps keep assistance flowing) without acting against its core interests by conducting counter-terrorism operations, committing to regional efforts, or undertaking painful domestic reforms that it does not wish to pursue. Indeed, American officials are often reluctant to press partners in these areas lest they jeopardize access or intelligence cooperation. Of course, stating that traditional alliance dynamics and instruments of statecraft are most useful for optimizing tactical cooperation does not mean that threat perceptions are moot. They still matter, more in some cases than others. If the United States and another country share common threat perceptions, this can enhance these aspects of tactical cooperation. Indeed, some cooperation is even possible in cases where alliance dynamics are weak or nonexistent. For example, the United States cooperated with Syria after 9/11 on rendition and limited intelligence sharing. Conversely, sharing a belligerent position toward a terrorist group does not guarantee tactical cooperation. Algeria and the United States both prioritized counter-terrorism after 9/11, but the Algerian government was unwilling to provide access in large part because of its history of anti-colonialism. Similarly, for years after 9/11, Algerian intelligence officers treated their American colleagues more as counterintelligence threats than counter-terrorism partners. Since 9/11, accomplishing U.S. counter-terrorism objectives has increasingly necessitated contributions from allies and partners to regional counter-terrorism missions, military coalitions, stabilization of conflict zones, and diplomatic initiatives to settle conflicts that enable terrorists to operate freely. A country’s relationship with the United States can be a major determinant of whether and how it cooperates on regional issues. However, whether or not participants deliver often depends heavily on their threat perceptions and capabilities. States may “free ride” in cases where they perceive a threat but believe they can sit back and allow the United States or other countries to do the heavy lifting. Partner nations also sometimes calibrate contributions to a regional initiative based on whether or not they believe robust participation will help or hinder their ability to compete with a regional rival. Take, for example, the anti-ISIL coalition: Many of the key regional players were more invested in toppling the Syrian regime or pursuing other agendas than they were in taking down the jihadist group. As ISIL has lost territory, competition among regional actors has fueled struggles over liberated areas and complicated attempts to build on military gains. One of the many lessons the United States has learned since 9/11 is that it cannot kill its way out of the terrorism problem. Thus, it has attempted, often unsuccessfully, to counter radicalization and jihadist recruitment in countries with large Muslim populations. These efforts fall under the umbrella of countering violent extremism (CVE). Some U.S. officials and counter-terrorism experts have argued for narrowing the scope of CVE initiatives to directly focus on keeping people at risk of executing or supporting terrorist violence from doing so. Others insist on the need for a more wide-ranging approach that includes CVE-relevant activities to address myriad societal risk factors, including poor governance, corruption, inadequate rule of law, economic underperformance, and underinvestment in education and infrastructure. Experts and scholars are beginning to make progress in terms of how to assess, monitor, and evaluate CVE programs. Yet measuring a partner nation’s cooperation on CVE has been and remains difficult for multiple reasons. To begin with, there is no standard set of methods for measurement. And, while data from the United States is hard to find, it is even harder to find data from foreign governments. Then there is the persistent disagreement over which factors contribute to radicalization or recruitment. Finally, it remains challenging to demonstrate conclusively why something — in this case an individual becoming radicalized or joining a terrorist group — does not occur. Nevertheless, it is possible to make two observations. First, partner nations, at least ones in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, appear more willing to implement direct or CVE-specific initiatives than they are to embrace indirect or CVE-relevant reforms related to governance, rule of law, or other structural factors. Second, governments in these regions that implement CVE-specific programs often undercut their value by actively restricting space for civil society organizations, which most experts contend should play a crucial role in countering radicalization and recruitment. These governments increasingly are adopting overly broad definitions of terrorism and violent extremism in order to repress these organizations. Know Your Enemies and Your Partners America already had plenty of counter-terrorism instruments at its disposal on 9/11. In the past 17 years, it has expanded its toolkit substantially. The United States has improved its existing capabilities, especially in the areas of intelligence and surveillance, and unleashed new ones, such as the use of drones to launch missile strikes. Yet, despite these advances, counter-terrorism efforts cannot be conducted unilaterally if they are to be both successful and sustainable. This has always been true, and takes on added importance as the United States transitions from prioritizing counter-terrorism to concentrating on great-power competition. Most partners simultaneously help and hinder the U.S. pursuit of its counter-terrorism objectives. Getting the most out of cooperation with other countries, knowing when to shrink or sever partnerships, and recognizing countries worthy of greater investment necessitates that policymakers have realistic expectations about what U.S. partners can or are willing to offer. It is critical to understand the security paradigm that drives a partner’s decision-making, how relations with the terrorist groups that are the target of cooperation fit into that paradigm, and how U.S. policies influence the political and security challenges that a given partner faces. Stephen Tankel is an associate professor at American University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a senior editor at War on the Rocks, and the author of With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror.  

5. What Progress Has America Made after 17 Years of Global Counter-Terrorism Efforts?

By Michael P. Dempsey As we approach the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it’s an opportune moment to stand back and assess both the progress America has achieved in its counter-terrorism fight and the critical work that remains to be done. In examining the campaign’s progress, I believe that it’s worthwhile to look across several broad mission categories to determine whether America is proceeding along a path that will significantly reduce the terrorist threat, or whether it might be time to adjust key elements of the current approach. Protecting the Homeland As a starting point, in the years since 9/11 there has thankfully been no repetition of a centrally directed, large-scale terrorist attack inside the United States, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself, and a credit to the exceptional work of America’s military, intelligence, and law enforcement services. To be sure, the homeland threat has not been entirely eliminated. In the past 17 years, more than 400 Americans and others living inside the United States have been charged with participating in terrorism-related activities, and more than 100 Americans have been killed in various attacks.[80] However, the success in forestalling a second major externally directed attack within the homeland is, in my view, a major achievement. In the nearly two decades since 9/11, America’s homeland defense capabilities have improved by an order of magnitude. Much of this progress is attributable to an increased focus by government agencies on the terrorism threat, as well as a cultural shift within a few key agencies, especially the FBI,[81] to emphasize attack prevention rather than prosecution after the fact.[82] There also has been an exponential increase in collaboration between federal law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and their local partners, especially in sharing new identification and collection technologies, travel information, and threat reporting. So, although there is still critical work to do, especially in trying to prevent lone wolf, jihadist-inspired attacks and in balancing the government’s need to collect potentially sensitive information with the privacy rights of every American citizen, it’s clear that the multi-year effort to harden the homeland from major terrorist attacks has made significant progress. Seizing the Battlefield Initiative Only a few years ago, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate held considerable territory in northwestern Syria,[83] and the group’s affiliates in both Yemen and Somalia held large swaths of terrain in both countries. The Islamic State, meanwhile, was on the march in Syria and then Iraq, capturing Mosul, threatening Erbil, and even triggering concerns in the West about an eventual assault on Baghdad.[84] That situation has, thankfully, been largely reversed, and the American military, along with its coalition partners, has dealt a series of major battlefield blows to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In the fight against al-Qaeda, for example, the United States has succeeded in eliminating several key leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abu Yaha al-Libi (its second in command), and reportedly last month, Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s infamous chief bomb maker. Asiri’s removal is especially significant because of his unique technical skills and creativity, and his central involvement in operations ranging from the attempted “underwear bombing” aboard an airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009, to his reported efforts to devise increasingly complex bombs and embed them inside electronic equipment capable of defeating airline detection systems.[85] U.S. and coalition efforts to contain and roll back al-Qaeda’s franchises and allies have also made significant gains. In Somalia, for example, al-Shabab has suffered several setbacks, including losing the important port cities of Kismayo and Baware to the combined military operations of African Union and Somali security forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes.[86] Illustrative of America’s heavy engagement in Somalia, the U.S. military has already reportedly conducted nearly two dozen airstrikes against Al Shabab in 2018, which is on pace to meet or exceed last year’s total.[87] Moreover, in Yemen, al-Qaeda now controls only about half of the territory it controlled at its peak in 2015. In April 2016, the group lost the important port city of Mukalla to Yemeni government forces assisted by troops from the United Arab Emirates.[88] Meanwhile, in the fight against the self-professed Islamic State, the United States and its allies have made great strides across a broad front. In Iraq and Syria, the U.S-led coalition has virtually eliminated the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, dramatically reduced its financial resources, and killed thousands of the group’s fighters, as well as many of its key leaders. The coalition has also reduced to a trickle the flow of foreign fighters entering the Islamic State’s ranks in Iraq and Syria and, with the seizure of Mosul and Raqqa, significantly curtailed the group’s social media outreach.[89] At the same time, the United States and its allies have inflicted considerable pain on the Islamic State’s overseas affiliates, particularly its branches in Afghanistan (where the affiliate’s senior leader was killed last month),[90] Libya, Mali, and Yemen. Restricting the Terrorists’ Ability to Adapt and Regroup Even as America and its allies have seized the battlefield momentum, there are worrisome signs that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are rebuilding, shifting tactics, and potentially preparing for a resurgence. Although al-Qaeda has suffered military setbacks, lost territory, and maintained a lower profile in recent years, terrorism experts note that the group is rebuilding quietly and is methodically bolstering its various branches. These experts note that al-Qaeda has deliberately avoided staging high profile attacks in the West so that the Islamic State would receive most of America’s military attention, allowing al-Qaeda to operate below the radar, especially in Syria, while fortifying its strength. Indeed, the latest estimates are that al-Qaeda still maintains an expansive global network of affiliates, and has managed to secure the loyalty of well over 10,000 followers in Syria alone (with most concentrated in Idlib Province, which is now under siege by Russian and Syrian state forces). The group reportedly also retains several thousand supporters in both Yemen and Somalia. And while my experience suggests that personnel estimates for groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are notoriously unreliable, the broad trends do highlight a worrisome fact — that even in the face of crippling setbacks, these groups are still able to attract and retain followers.[91] As for the Islamic State, while it no longer controls significant territory in Iraq and Syria, it maintains a small presence in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria, and is slowly expanding its presence in Diyala, Salah ad-Din, and Kirkuk in Iraq.[92] Meanwhile in Libya, the Islamic State has lost control of Sirte and oil rich areas of the country, but in recent months has established cells around Tripoli and has carved out a significant presence in southern Libya. The Islamic State has also been more active operationally in recent months, launching a series of attacks across the globe that have killed hundreds and wounded many hundreds more. These attacks have occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Sinai, and in Syria. It’s also noteworthy that even after the fall of the caliphate, not one Islamic State branch has renounced their pledge of fealty to the group.[93] Somewhat surprisingly, the United Nations reports that many of the foreign fighters that flocked to the Islamic State’s banners in Iraq and Syria in recent years have largely remained there even after the caliphate’s fall, with recent data suggesting a lower than anticipated return of foreign fighters to their countries of origin.[94] This lack of movement has, on the one hand, provided the Islamic State with residual strength in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, a potential flood of battle-hardened Islamic State fighters returning to Western Europe and North America has been a key worry of Western intelligence services for most of the past decade, so this latest information that they are staying put is actually welcome news. It’s also evident that the Islamic State has altered its tactical approach over the past several months, avoiding direct, set-piece engagements with U.S. and allied forces, and instead resorting to isolated suicide attacks and hit-and-run operations. This allows the group to avoid casualties while also remaining militarily relevant.[95] On balance, then, it’s fair to say that while the United States has clearly regained the battlefield initiative from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, these groups remain wily, adaptive, and lethal, and neither shows any interest in ceding the field anytime soon. Draining the Swamp The question of whether America is removing terrorists from the battlefield faster than they are being replaced has formed the backdrop to every counter-terrorism policy discussion since 9/11, and remains just as relevant today as it was 17 years ago. Unfortunately, there are reasons to worry about current trends. First, the underlying conditions that have fueled the appeal of extremism for the past few decades — fear within vulnerable Sunni communities about the rise of Shia political power, the accompanying proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the collapse of local governing authority in countries from Afghanistan to Yemen, a lack of political space for young people and an accompanying rise in authoritarianism in key countries such as Egypt, and chronically high youth unemployment rates (approaching 30 percent) throughout the Middle East[96] — show no signs of improvement. In fact, in most instances, the trends are decidedly negative. These conditions are the kindling that will keep the extremist fire burning indefinitely. A corollary challenge emanating from this chaos is a growing population-displacement and refugee crisis, which is severely straining governments from Turkey to Jordan, and which may over time increase the appeal of the extremists’ message to segments of the displaced population that remain outside of a formal education process and have no viable employment opportunities. The West’s response to this humanitarian crisis has thus far been largely disjointed and ineffective. Reports about the lack of progress in rebuilding devastated Sunni communities in both Syria and Iraq are especially worrisome,[97] as a key element of the extremist recruiting pitch for years has been that they could offer better basic social services than the central government, and that only they could defend vulnerable Sunni communities. In my view, therefore, any effective long-term campaign to drain the swamp of potential al-Qaeda and Islamic State recruits will have to include programs to improve the quality of life and sense of security for communities devastated by the last several years of fighting. At the moment, that type of tailored assistance seems unlikely. Avoiding Unforced Errors Regardless of where one lands in the debate over whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003, there is no doubt that the invasion gave rise to al-Qaeda in Iraq the following year and lit a match to a combustible region. Similarly, while there were many legitimate reasons to draw down U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, there is also little doubt that the reduced U.S. footprint facilitated the sudden rise of the Islamic State, fueled of course by the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, the start of the Syrian civil war next door, and the unexpected collapse of the Iraqi military only three years later. And while there was certainly a case to be made for removing Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, several of the follow-on effects were quite severe, including the creation of a safe haven for the Islamic State along the coast, and the spillover of the Libyan conflict into sub-Saharan Africa. Thankfully, there have been noticeably fewer foreign policy actions over the past few years that have inadvertently complicated our counter-terrorism campaign on this scale, though there are some issues today that if not handled wisely could fall into the category of major unforced errors. For example, Western policymakers need to be extremely careful in their public rhetoric and actions to avoid creating the perception that the West’s fight against Islamic terrorists is actually a war against all Muslims. Also, Western leaders need to think through the full range of issues involved in determining the final disposition of foreign fighters held in captivity. Some key allies, for example, are likely to be pressured by their political leaders to halt counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States if, as has been reported in the press, the White House decides to send a small number of foreign fighters currently held in Syria to Guantanamo. There is also a growing risk of serious long-term reputational damage to America from its association with the type of incident that occurred last month in Yemen, where, as was widely reported, a busload of Yemeni children were killed by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike.[98] America’s military support to the Saudi campaign in Yemen, which is mainly limited to aerial refueling and targeting training, is nonetheless widely criticized in the Middle East — as well as by prominent international observers — for exacerbating the country’s humanitarian nightmare. According to the United Nations, nearly 9 million Yemenis are now on the brink of starvation in what it describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.[99] Therefore, America’s continuing link to the Saudi-led bombing campaign, whether fair or unfair, risks undercutting critical efforts to win hearts and minds in the global fight against extremism, and it would, in my view, behoove U.S. policymakers to redouble their efforts to help end this conflict. A final potential unforced error is the grinding conflict in Afghanistan, which continues to require the commitment of more than 10,000 American troops at a cost of more than $40 billion annually. In many ways, the conflict in Afghanistan is no longer central to the global counter-terrorism struggle, as al-Qaeda’s primary focus is in Syria and with its non-South Asian affiliates, and the Islamic State has at most a few thousand fighters in Afghanistan, located mainly in Nangarhar Province near the border with Pakistan. It’s also evident that the Taliban and the Islamic State hate each other, and press reports suggest that more Islamic State fighters have been killed by the Taliban than by Afghan security forces. The idea, therefore, of the Taliban taking over Kabul and allowing the Islamic State to establish a safe haven or al-Qaeda shifting the bulk of its fighters from Syria back to Afghanistan, seems highly unlikely. The remaining terrorists in Afghanistan are still a patchwork of groups focused primarily on local and regional grievances, thus far with no demonstrated ability or intent to operate internationally.[100] So, while there are many legitimate non-terrorism related reasons to maintain a U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers will need to carefully consider in the coming months whether the long-term terrorist threat there still merits the current commitment of U.S. troops and intelligence resources, or whether the U.S. would be better off redeploying some of these precious resources elsewhere. Laying the Groundwork for Long-Term Success? Along these lines, a final metric to examine is whether the current strategy for countering terrorism is sustainable over the long haul. While there is little doubt that that the United States military, law enforcement, and intelligence services are capable of carrying on this fight for the next few years, there are a few worrisome signs to consider. The cost of this fight is, by any measure, staggering. According to a recent report by the Stimson Center, the United States since 9/11 has on average spent approximately $186 billion per year on counter-terrorism funding (and nearly $3 trillion total) since 2002, an amount equal to about 15 percent of the government’s total discretionary spending.[101] That level of spending may become harder to sustain in the future given America’s growing national debt, and highlights an urgent need to increase efficiencies, avoid unnecessary mission duplication, and enhance burden sharing with our allies in this fight. It also brings to mind a warning from physicist Ernest Rutherford who once wryly remarked that, “We haven’t got the money, so we’ll have to think.” Meanwhile, the tremendous monetary commitment does not capture the total cost of this conflict. In particular, it does not take into account the enormous time and attention U.S. policymakers have had to devote to this issue over several years, and the myriad ways it has shaped America’s relationships with countries across the globe. In fact, as critics have noted, it’s fair to question whether the current counter-terrorism emphasis not only influences U.S. foreign policy, but distorts it and subordinates in its pursuit other critical U.S. interests such as democracy and human rights promotion.[102] While America can certainly bear the cost of the global counter-terrorism campaign at the moment, U.S. policymakers would be wise to constantly question whether there are options for driving down costs, increasing efficiencies, and bolstering its coalition’s contribution to this fight — particularly at a time when military competition with peer states such as China and Russia is on the rise. Lessons Learned America’s counter-terrorism campaign has come a long way from the frantic and frightening days immediately after 9/11. And while there is considerable work left to do and some key adjustments to be made, we have certainly learned important lessons that that will help U.S. policymakers to formulate a more tailored and effective counter-terrorism strategy going forward. We have learned, for example, about the enduring lethality and resiliency of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and the urgent requirement to deny them secure territory in which they can train fighters, plan attacks, raise revenue, and expand their online messaging efforts. We have learned about the enormous benefit of working closely with allies, especially from majority Muslim countries such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, who have deep expertise about the extremist threat and considerable ground truth to share. We have learned about the utility of empowering partners to spearhead offensive operations with U.S. military and intelligence backing. In this vein, it is critical going forward to maintain close relations with partners such as the Iraqi Special Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, allies that have borne the brunt of fighting and are essential to our effort to keep pressure on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. We have also learned about the need for a more proactive counter-radicalization strategy, especially online, that focuses primarily on the timeframe before an individual embraces the jihadists’ message and becomes committed to the terrorist cause. And we have learned about the need to formulate a cost-effective, integrated counter-terrorism strategy that begins to address the underlying causes of radicalization, especially in the Middle East, and which carefully balances the terrorism threat with other U.S. security priorities. Fully implementing these hard-earned lessons will not be easy, but will be critical to our eventual success. In the end, the past 17 years of America’s global counter-terrorism campaign have taught us that only with a creative, inclusive, flexible, and sustained approach will we be able to effectively tackle this challenge, and provide a more secure future for all Americans. Michael P. Dempsey is the national intelligence fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellowship sponsored by the U.S. government. He is the former acting director of national intelligence. All opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.  

6. Retrospect and Prospect: On Endless War

By David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside There is great benefit in thinking about your own country’s struggles while listening to someone else’s, particularly at a conference inspired by the attacks on 9/11 and conducted annually since. At the annual International Counterterrorism conference held this past week at the IDC-Herzilya,[103] we attended a panel titled, “Israel and Gaza: Hudna or Victory?” Hudna is an Arabic word meaning “cease fire,” but the Israelis at this conference understood it more as a “time-out.”[104] The panel consisted of Israeli security officials and politicians debating whether it was a good idea to negotiate with their opponents in order to stop recent border clashes and the periodic rocket, mortar, and flaming kite attacks directed at civilian targets in Israel. Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova, from the Israeli center-left Zionist Union party,[105] pithily summed up her perception of the government overtures in this way: “This is not an Israeli victory but a victory for radical Islam: Radical Islam - One, World - Zero.”[106] The body language of the former military official on the panel, whose experience in Gaza led him to argue for the benefits of hudna, made it obvious that the politician’s sound bite had found a tender spot. After all, who wants to be associated with an effort seen by some to appease terrorists, especially from the left side of the political spectrum? In a related observation, the outgoing U.S. commander of Afghanistan recently remarked that “it’s time for this war to end.”[107] This might be interpreted in many ways, but it is difficult not to think that it reflects the universal angst over the failure of the United States and its partners to achieve conflict termination in the larger war against jihadist militants. The conference forced the three of us — faculty of the U.S. Naval War College — to borrow from naval theorist Mahan and ask questions of retrospection and prospection:[108] How do we assess the evolution of our thinking and practice of counterterrorism since 9/11? What do those influences look like today in execution? How will the conflict be evaluated in ten years time? Retrospect Following the 9/11 attacks, successive U.S. administrations have promulgated three consistent objectives: First, to prevent additional mass casualty attacks on our homeland. Second, to find and punish those responsible. And third, to shatter the larger transnational terrorist movement’s capability and capacity to be a future threat. These reasonable objectives contrast with some of the associated rhetoric surrounding the "war on terror," often obscuring these objectives and seeking more expansive ones including eliminating terrorism writ large, eliminating “state-sponsored” terrorism, democratizing large parts of the Islamic world, and the attainment of perfect security for Americans at home and abroad. Ignoring the political rhetoric for the time being, and any corrosive effects it might have on clarity of purpose, we offer an objective evaluation of how the U.S. fared in achieving these three aims. To stop another mass casualty terrorist attack, the United States has reorganized its internal security institutions and upgraded law enforcement and both domestic and international intelligence capabilities.  While these severely complicate jihadist efforts to carry out mass casualty attacks on the United States, there are economic and social costs for this increased surveillance and government infringements on liberty.  In the pursuit of this quest, our political leaders have committed significant errors, such as invading Iraq, ostensibly to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to jihadist groups. Yet in a narrow but important sense, this concerted effort to prevent a large attack has been impressive and successful with a small residual risk. The hunt for the perpetrators, off to a good start in 2002, took longer than expected but largely achieved the objective in the end when Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. However, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who leads al-Qaeda, remains at large. Jihadist replacement of leaders with effective replacements, and the rise of the scion of Bin Laden have undercut perceptions of this success.[109] Furthermore, the use of torture to obtain information about terror attacks and the location of leaders has undermined future efforts. The United States and its partners have not only failed to cripple the global jihadist movement, the problem is orders of magnitude worse since 9/11. Although America’s counter-terrorism campaign has restricted jihadist capability to conduct major attacks in the United States, the same cannot be said for Europe, where large terrorist attacks by Islamic State operatives have killed scores of people and injured hundreds. The split between al-Qaeda and Islamic State in 2013 has complicated the picture for intelligence collection, forcing analysts to look in too many directions. Leaders from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State still exert control over their respective franchises, although in a degraded manner. The networks and affiliates are disaggregated, often focused on local sovereignty designs, and while nominally dedicated to global jihad are practically focused on influencing local Muslim populations.[110] Worryingly, this metastasizing jihadist movement is proving to be an adaptive enemy, operating in a globalized age that has dispersed impressive and cheap technological means to help them in their fight against states. Our evaluation of the attainment of these objectives fall in descending order, from mostly achieved for the first two to an insufficient grade for the last. Both the failure to manage the growth of the global jihadist movement, and the realization that even the destruction of the caliphate has not ended the campaign, inspires the frustration of politicians, practitioners, scholars, journalists, and voters. Worse, the passing scores on the first two objectives are only interim evaluations, not final ones. They require unending maintenance and attention. The resulting disillusionment, compounded by unforced errors that have made the conflict more expansive and expensive, is a serious issue that will continue to have profound consequences if unaddressed by our country’s leaders. To understand the source of this frustration, we present a metaphor to understand the challenges of combatting terrorism. Like analogies, there are many metaphors, and none are perfect, but this one is ours. The Problem with Pythons Florida has a bit of a Burmese python problem, as odd as that might seem. In an age of globalization, imported pet pythons somehow escaped into the Everglades, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They have expanded into an estimated population in the tens to hundreds of thousands — not exactly a small margin of error but a reflection of the difficulty in assessing the threat.[111] Described as an apex predator, the python’s breeding habits and voracious diet has been linked to the extinction of marsh hares and the devastation of small mammal populations in the Everglades. The stated goal of the scientists and policymakers tasked with winning “the war” on pythons is to reduce the environmental impact to “a manageable level.”[112] One scientist remarked that while there were other invasive species in Florida, Burmese pythons are “especially unnerving,” and “the idea that this giant snake that doesn’t belong here, is here, just really is in people’s hearts and minds.” All of these phrases should sound familiar for those who study counterinsurgency and terror. Much like the futility of trying to stop the growth of the python population, our failure to reduce the scale of global jihadism is more obvious than ever, with each of the successive “waves” growing larger and larger since the late 1970s.[113] A decade ago, the Islamic State of Iraq had a few thousand members. More recently, the Pentagon was claiming they had killed over 60,000 members.[114] The Islamic State has new franchises all over the world and an end-strength measured in tens of thousands. Like the jihadist problem, the origin of the python problem might be interesting but it is not instructive in creating any solution. Burmese pythons have adapted to their new environment, are almost impossible to find, and while posing little direct threat to humans are in the process of drastically affecting a delicate ecosystem with unknown consequences. Efforts to open up hunting of pythons by politicians are making a laughably small impact on the problem.[115] In essence, these dynamics are very similar to our current effort to reduce terrorism. All analogies and metaphors have their weakness, and this one suffers from a significant one: unlike pythons, terrorists kill people in increasing numbers with worrisome trends.[116] In an age characterized by the rapid transfer of technology, and despite exhortations by some that terrorism is a relatively insignificant problem, the risk of a large-scale terror attack is commensurately increasing.[117] Our past failures are eroding resolve to face up to and try to prevent this future attack, and this is compounded by the looming deficit crisis — some of it fueled by these same costly failures — that will naturally limit our ability to act. The rise of other risks to international cooperation and norms (dare we say an international order) will further complicate and distract from the risk of terrorism.[118] How will we get through the next decade without another massive loss of innocent life? Prospect and the Future of Endless War There are three factors that we think will determine the future trajectory of global efforts to reduce terror acts and associated loss of life and property. The first will center on whether a shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict can be attained. This failure is at the root of wasted effort, mistakes, and disillusionment. The second factor will depend on the management of scarce resources to continue prosecuting the war against jihadi actors in an era of multiplying threats. Finally, the outcome will be determined by the ability of policymakers to unify an international coalition to defeat members of the global jihadist movement, which while divided at the moment, still march to the beat of the same drum. War on Terror, or War in Error? The irony about a conference on terror in the 21st century is that you will rarely find the word “war” mentioned. In fact, most conventional definitions — including one long proposed by the conference organizer, Boaz Ganor — specifically exclude attacks on military targets as terrorism.[119] Proponents of this definition desire increased cooperation among international actors and are fearful of delegitimizing what some might call freedom fighters rebelling against brutal oppression. This is the problem in Syria, where critics of groups fighting Assad’s criminal attacks on his own population deliberately elide them with jihadist opportunists, who have quite separate political objectives. As a consequence of this exclusion of attacks on military targets — which often includes police and government workers, even experts get confused about what is terrorism and what is not.[120] Considering that insurgents always use terror in their campaigns to overtake the state, the line is always blurred. [121] The mistake of the Bush administration of terming the struggle as a “War on Terror” produced a distaste for thinking of the struggle as war, which in retrospect it has become — either due to our mistakes or because it was inevitable. Whichever the case, this is now a war, and describing it as such is a much better use of the word than the ubiquitous use of “hybrid war,” “political warfare,” “cyber war,” “economic war,” “the war on drugs,” and so on, when it is doubtful that anything related to war/warfare is happening in any of these constructs. The current effort to defeat the jihadis is a war in almost every sense, fought between military components with sizeable asymmetric power imbalances but nonetheless the power to control territory and populations and inflict violence on one another. It is common to think that the enemy’s strategy is to use terror to achieve their end state. The reality is not this simple. Instead, jihadists use terrorism against civilians and military targets as an integrated strategy of attrition/exhaustion/provocation. We refuse to accept this new reality and continue to misread our jihadi opponents, their objectives, and their relative success in achieving modest success to date. Any focus on the defeat of the caliphate,[122] and not the shocking fact that one was created in the first place by tens of thousands of locals and global migrants,[123] is a good example of this failure to understand. Governments exist in large part to protect its citizens from harm. Failure to do this has large repercussions for politicians. Kori Schake, a member of Bush’s National Security Council, told a panel dissecting the motives behind the Iraq invasion this year that rational arguments against invading Iraq were overcome by a palpable fear of an even larger terrorist attack, one that politicians of both parties in both branches were eager to prevent.[124] Accordingly, they overwhelmingly passed an authorization for the use of military force in 2002.[125] Sixteen years later, we still cannot accept the reality of the war we are fighting, and three administrations have used this law to justify war against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.[126] We are not executing a series of isolated military strikes with drones, but an extended and significant campaigns with no end in sight. Crocodiles Closer to the Canoe? Governments have to set priorities to protect their citizens, and efficiently allocate resources in order to protect its citizens and secure their welfare. The Trump administration’s new strategy directives reflect a desire to reshape a balance where the prosecution of the war against jihadist groups is sublimated in every sense to the need to counter a China increasingly acting in a “hegemonic” manner — not just regionally but also globally.[127] This move has been applauded for realistically and belatedly addressing the rise China as a geopolitical threat to the United States’ position as unchallenged global leader.  Fears that we are over-invested in the fight against jihadist groups, at the expense of attention to China or Russia, are valid and reasonable concerns addressed in the new National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. That being said, it could be just as much a mistake to understand China as a threat to the United States, as opposed to a competitor for political and economic influence.[128] While the competition for resources is always a zero-sum game, risk assessment is not. The probability of a Chinese threat to U.S. citizens, in an era of nuclear deterrence, is lower than the probability of a successful terror attack on U.S. soil, even if it would be much deadlier. Even if we were to decide to actively contest Chinese island building in the South China Sea, as well as influence efforts in South Asia and Africa, it is extremely unclear as to what we could actually do to stop what is a natural increase in influence due to their rising economic power. Furthermore, it is possible that China’s obtuse and clumsy efforts to use coercive tactics against South China Sea neighbors and political influence to manipulate internal political considerations in countries like Australia will inspire a natural and increasingly common backlash.[129] The dilemma of dealing with a rising China is an example of the strategic planning concept former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld popularized of “known knowns,” etc.[130] Despite indications of China’s growing power and new willingness to use it, there is little indication yet of how this will affect the current international order — one that has benefited China to a large degree and may continue to do so. This would function as a “known unknown.” In contrast, the jihadist threat is a “known known,” with their intentions telegraphed and their determination to fulfill the establishment of the caliphate proven. Without discounting the importance of a new shared awareness that China could develop into a serious threat to stability and the U.S. position as an indispensible leader of the global community, we cannot fail to deal with the “known known.” Certainly, the lessons of chasing uncertain futures should be familiar enough to give us pause. Coalitions of the Willing, and Able The initial response to the establishment of the caliphate in 2014 was uncertain, dividing those who urged rollback from those who advised containment.[131] Subsequent terrorist attacks around the world inspired a slow shift to rollback as the preferred option, and today the self-proclaimed caliphate is no more. Despite this achievement, there has been only limited commitment to the reconstruction necessary to prevent an Islamic State resurgence.[132] States are still largely focused on perceived threats against their specific country, and retain a parochial attitude in approaching the jihadi groups that might be organizationally divided, but follow the same ideology. This well-articulated doctrine clearly defines the enemy, the strategy, and the acceptable tactics for engagement.[133] Despite significant efforts by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate, this lack of unity of the targets of terrorism will likely increase thanks to a U.S. administration that embraces a go-it-alone approach and disdain for the benefits of international cooperation and unified action.[134] The only thing preventing this to date are the efforts of individual diplomats and administration figures dedicated to reducing the threat of terrorism.[135] An important point that came up in the counterterrorism conference was a plea for countries to take responsibility for their citizens that committed terror acts in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Despite the new understanding of the dangers of allowing jihadists to build new networks around the world, countries have increased citizenship revocation for foreign terrorist fighters to avoid bringing them home.[136] To avoid the hassles and risk of repatriating, prosecuting, detaining, rehabilitating, and reintegrating these individuals, countries are passing the buck and contributing to the building of the future fifth wave of global jihad. One United Nations representative at the conference admitted that Russia was taking the lead on repatriating the children of foreign terrorist fighters to grandparents in their country, in an ironic contrast to several liberal democracies.[137] While countries are cooperating in this collective action problem, the absence of leadership from the United States is problematic.[138] We end this analysis by presenting a possible black swan related to the fight against jihadist foes. The United States and others have largely ignored Chinese actions concerning its Uighur population, Muslims who live in the Western province of Xinjiang. Reports that over a million Uighurs have been interned and subject to reeducation because of their religious beliefs could be the inspiration for the unity and support the jihadis have tried so hard to win, especially if the repression inspires an uprising.[139] Anyone entertaining a bit of schadenfreude over these Chinese missteps has failed to learn the lessons of 9/11, and of life in our globalized and ever interconnected world. The Uighur issue might start as a Chinese problem, but it will not end as a strictly Chinese problem. Conclusions How do we think the scorecard on these three factors will look in a decade? It is too early to predict but we are not off to a good start. A lack of confidence in our own values due to past mistakes and shameful violations of our own values are fueling an inclination to reduce our efforts against groups that use terror because of a belief that we are the cause of this increase in terror.[140] Just as the invasion of Iraq was an overreaction inspired by fear, our possible disengagement from the fight against violent extremists could end up as an overreaction to a failure to make an impact on the level of terror violence, and used by populist politicians to justify retrenchment. Western polities are divided and nonchalantly discuss possibilities of civil war, and focus on identity at the cost of unity.[141] Distaste for concepts like limited war against the jihadists, meaning limited objectives as well as limited resources, could force us to use illogical constructs like victory to judge success, much like the Israeli politician calling the negotiations with Hamas a defeat in the global war on terror. Until our politicians embrace these distinctions, or at least refrain from using them against their government opponents, we will never understand the war that we have been fighting, a war that will continue. This war plays out in fits and spurts, and the intensity of it ebbs and flows. The anniversary of 9/11 is a great time to conduct introspection; our governments owe us some real talk on what will continue to be a long struggle to reduce terror attacks around the world. David A. Brown is the executive director of the Advanced Naval Strategist Program and co-director of the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups. Tim Hoyt is the John Nicholas Brown Chair of Counterterrorism, a professor of strategy and policy, and the acting director of the Advanced Strategist Program  Craig Whiteside is a professor of national security affairs.   All three are faculty members of the U.S. Naval War College. The opinions are the views of the authors and do not reflect any official policy or view of the U.S. government.  

7. Another Year of the War in Afghanistan

By A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner In August 2017, President Donald Trump rubberstamped his predecessors’ failed policies when he announced America’s recommitment to the mission in Afghanistan. In his speech, Trump made the same promises of victory and signed on to the same set of goals outlined many times by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama: Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition:  attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.[142] Trump’s plan for victory in Afghanistan was dead on arrival. Based on the same faulty premises about the threat of terrorism and the benefits of military action, Trump’s Afghanistan campaign has done little to make Americans safer. None of this is news. By the time Trump made his announcement last year, the fundamental indicators of failure in Afghanistan had been easy to see for quite some time. Why has the United States embraced the same feckless strategy over 17 years and three presidents? The answer is simple: Washington’s continued embrace of a host of strategic myths. The safe haven fallacy has promoted unwarranted concern over the threat of future terrorism. When Trump asked why the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense James Mattis responded, “to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square.”[143] And indeed, many argue that the failure of terrorists to launch a second 9/11-style attack proves the value of continued American efforts in Afghanistan and military action elsewhere. In his August 2017 speech, Trump made it clear that this argument was central to his decision to extend the American commitment to Afghanistan, noting, The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.  9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.  A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.[144] Despite its popularity in Washington,[145] the safe haven argument is overblown.[146] The most important base of operations for the 9/11 terrorists was not Afghanistan, but the United States. As the 9/11 commission report describes, all of the hijackers entered the United States legally,[147] where they received their technical (pilot) training, not in some clandestine Afghan camp. Without the ability to carry out their preparations here in the United States, the 9/11 attack might not have occurred. Post-9/11 security reforms have made it far more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States, and they now are unable to access such sophisticated training without raising suspicion. These efforts, not the campaign in Afghanistan, have been the most effective in curtailing the ability of would-be terrorists to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. More generally, the safe haven fallacy is an argument for endless war based on unwarranted worst-case scenario assumptions. To worry about an attack from Afghanistan, a capable terrorist group must have room to operate there safely, must decide a major attack on the U.S. homeland is a good idea, and must figure out a way to carry out that attack from Afghanistan — 7,000 miles from the American homeland — without the sort of support within the United States that al-Qaeda enjoyed in 2001. And all of this must occur without the United States detecting and disrupting the plot. Though the defense establishment gets paid to plan for trouble, this series of events is so unlikely it does not justify the occupation of Afghanistan today or tomorrow. If the United States left Afghanistan and the Taliban took control again, why would they provide support to Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or some other group with plans to repeat 9/11? The Taliban did not attack the United States, and they certainly did not benefit from al-Qaeda’s strike on the United States. Moreover, leaving Afghanistan does not mean the United States has to ignore what is happening there. Intelligence can provide early warning should events someday point toward the possibility that a major attack on the United States is becoming more likely. At that point the United States could intervene in a more limited fashion to deal with gathering threats. The belief that terrorism and the conflicts and animosities which give rise to it can be eradicated is the second myth propagating the effort in Afghanistan.[148] Trump’s promise to obliterate the self-proclaimed Islamic State and crush al-Qaeda, while emotionally satisfying, is strategically misguided. The roots of terrorism, like the causes of war, run too deep for even a superpower to do much about.[149] Defeating al-Qaeda and the Islamic State will not put an end to jihadist terrorism because the organizations themselves are simply the symptoms of underlying political dynamics and fundamental social and cultural conflicts, not their cause. Declaring war on these symptoms and intervening in nations riven by conflict is a recipe for failure. The evidence indicates America is further from defeating jihadist groups than it was on Sept. 12, 2001. Despite 17 years in Afghanistan, almost as long in Iraq, as well as drone strikes and special operations missions in Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines, and Mali, the State Department reports that the number of Islamist-inspired terrorist groups has tripled since 2001,[150] while the number of fighters has risen from approximately 32,000 to more than 100,000.[151] In Afghanistan alone, there are as many as 20 such groups operating.[152] And though no one is suggesting that American intervention is the only important factor, it seems more likely that America’s presence in Afghanistan is making things worse than making things better when it comes to eliminating the threat. Finally, American military and political leaders wrongly believe that the key to “victory” in Afghanistan is merely a question of convincing the Taliban of American resolve. In contrast to Obama, Trump promised that the American presence in Afghanistan would be condition-based, not time limited, in an effort to pressure the Taliban to negotiate. As a Pentagon report from December 2017 put it, "The objective of the campaign is to convince the Taliban that they cannot win on the battlefield.”[153] With fewer troops on the ground than during the Obama surge, the notion that Trump’s approach is going to produce more leverage is fantastical. Today the Taliban control, contest, or influence more territory than at any point since they were ejected from power in 2001.[154] Making things even worse, the current Afghan government is a disaster. Not only is the government incapable of protecting its own people without help from the United States, Freedom House assesses Afghans as “not free,” the same rating from the Taliban days, and in terms of corruption, Afghanistan ranks fourth worst in the global system.[155] Simply put, nothing the United States is doing will encourage the Taliban to change its course, regardless of how much resolve Trump and his generals have. The failures of America’s war on terror are obvious at this point — even to the president. During his August 2017 speech, Trump began by noting that he shared the public’s frustration with the costly and prolonged stalemate and that his first instinct was to pull American troops out of Afghanistan.[156] As we remember the victims of 9/11 and honor the millions who have served in the war that followed, it is past time for the United States to find its way out of Afghanistan. Trevor Thrall is an associate professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.  Erik Goepner (Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired) commanded military units in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he is currently an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.   Image: Michael Foran [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: 17 Years After September 11 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-17-years-after-september-11 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-19 12:31:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-19 16:31:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=716 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => To understand what has gone both right and wrong since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 202 [1] => 187 [2] => 155 [3] => 206 [4] => 204 [5] => 205 [6] => 203 [7] => 207 [8] => 208 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] “Twin Towers Demolished, Pentagon Hit in Terrorist Attacks,” Fox News, Sept. 12, 2001, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2001/09/12/twin-towers-demolished-pentagon-hit-in-terrorist-attacks.html [2] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia, 2018). [3] “A Timeline of the U.S. War in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan. [4] Steve Coll, “We Can’t Win in Afghanistan Because We Don’t Know Why We’re There,” New York Times, Jan. 26, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/opinion/sunday/united-states-afghanistan-win.html. [5] Michael P. Dempsey, “No Longer a Haven for International Terrorists,” New York Times, Dec. 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/03/opinion/no-longer-a-haven-for-international-terrorists.html. [6] Dexter Filkins, The Forever War, (New York: Penguin Random House, 2009). [7] Tricia Bacon, “Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?,” Security Studies 27, no. 3 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1416813. [8] Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban / Al-Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970–2010 (London: Hurst, 2012). [9] Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War Against America (New York: Penguin Random House, 2002). [10] Atiyah abd al-Rahman (aka Mahmud), “Government Exhibit 421,” June 19, 2010, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, https://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/EXHIBIT-421-ENG-TRANS-EX-420-76C5764D-1.pdf; Thomas Joscelyn, “Zawahiri Calls on Muslims to Support Taliban, Reject Islamic State,” FDD's Long War Journal, Aug. 21, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/08/zawahiri-calls-on-muslims-to-support-taliban-reject-islamic-state.php. [11] “Undated letter re Afghanistan,” Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, declassified May 15, 2015, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/english/Undated%20letter%20re%20Afghanistan.pdf. [12] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations, July 27, 2018, http://undocs.org/S/2018/705. [13] Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin, 2004); “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Dec. 22, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB253/19981222.pdf; Zachary Laub, “The Taliban in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 4, 2014, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan. [14] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Sept. 24, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB97/tal26.pdf. [15] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Sept. 14, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc 6.pdf; “Strains Surface Between Taliban and Bin Ladin,” Central Intelligence Agency, January 1999, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/368942-1999-01-strains-surface-between-taliban-and-bin.html. [16] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Dec. 30, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc 6.pdf; Osama Bin Laden, “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” World Islamic Front Statement, Feb. 23, 1998, https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm; van Linschoten and Kuehn, An Enemy We Created. [17] "SITREP 6: Pakistan/Afghanistan Reaction to U.S. Strikes," U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Aug. 25, 1998,  https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc%204.pdf; "SITREP 7: Pakistan/Afghanistan Reaction to U.S. Strikes," U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Aug. 26, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc%205.pdf. [18] “Taliban Commander Reveals Anger at Al Qaeda, Dim Hopes for Victory,” TOLOnews, July 11, 2012, https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/taliban-commander-reveals-anger-al-qaeda-dim-hopes-victory. [19] “GTD Search Results,” Global Terrorism Database, accessed Sept. 9, 2018, https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?page=1&casualties_type=b&casualties_max=&dtp2=all&country=4&perpetrator=20029,40325&expanded=no&charttype=line&chart=overtime&ob=GTDID&od=desc - results-table. [20] “Afghanistan Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now,” Central Intelligence Agency, Mar. 23, 2001, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/368972-2001-03-23-afghanistan-taliban-holding-firm-on.html. [21] Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (New York: Henry Holt, 2014). [22] Michael Semple, “The Taliban Need Help to Break Their Al-Qaida Ties,” Guardian, Apr. 30, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/30/taliban-al-qaida-ties. [23] Michael Semple, Conversation with the author, Sept. 4, 2018, London. [24] Jason Burke, “Bin Laden Files Show Al-Qaida and Taliban Leaders in Close Contact,” Guardian, Apr. 29, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/apr/29/bin-laden-al-qaida-taliban-contact; Atiyah abd al-Rahman (aka Mahmud), “Government Exhibit 421,” June 19, 2010, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, https://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/EXHIBIT-421-ENG-TRANS-EX-420-76C5764D-1.pdf; Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen, “US Official: High-Level Al Qaeda Commander Killed in Afghanistan,” CNN, Dec. 5, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/05/politics/us-kills-high-level-al-qaeda-commander-omar-bin-khatab/index.html. [25] “Summary of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Author Unknown, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, declassified May 20, 2015, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/english/Summary on situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.pdf. [26] Rod Nordland, Ash Ngu, and Fahim Abed, “How the U.S. Government Misleads the Public on Afghanistan,” New York Times, Sept. 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/08/world/asia/us-misleads-on-afghanistan.html; “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, July 30, 2018, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2018-07-30qr.pdf. [27] Ashley Jackson, “Life under the Taliban Shadow Government,” ODI, June 2018, https://www.odi.org/publications/11144-life-under-taliban-shadow-government. [28] “Afghanistan Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now.” [29] Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018). [30] Aziz Amin Ahmadzai, “Iran’s Support for the Taliban Brings It to a Crossroads With Afghanistan,” Diplomat, May 21, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/irans-support-for-the-taliban-brings-it-to-a-crossroads-with-afghanistan/. [31] Mujib Mashal, “Afghan Taliban Awash in Heroin Cash, a Troubling Turn for War,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/world/asia/opium-heroin-afghanistan-taliban.html. [32] Gabriel Dominguez, “How the Taliban Get Their Money” Deutsche Welle, Jan. 21, 2016, https://www.dw.com/en/how-the-taliban-get-their-money/a-18995315. [33] Carlotta Gall, “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html. [34] Ayaz Gul, “Taliban Says IS ‘Purged’ From Northern Afghan Province,” VOA News, Aug. 1, 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-says-islamic-state-eliminated-from-northern-afghan-province/4508922.html. [35] Dan Lamothe, “‘Probably the Largest’ Al-Qaeda Training Camp Ever Destroyed in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/10/30/probably-the-largest-al-qaeda-training-camp-ever-destroyed-in-afghanistan/. [36] Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973–2012 (London: Hurst, 2013); Barbara Elias-Sanborn, ed., “The Haqqani History: Bin Ladin's Advocate Inside the Taliban,” National Security Archive, Sept. 11, 2012, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB389/. [37] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team”; Wesley Morgan, “Whatever Happened to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan?,” POLITICO, Aug. 15, 2018, https://politi.co/2Bl3t8u. [38] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (translated),” July 9, 2005, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2013/10/Zawahiris-Letter-to-Zarqawi-Translation.pdf. [39] Thomas Jocelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri swears allegiance to the Taliban’s new leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php. [40] Don Melvin, “Taliban Admit Mullah Omar Died in 2013,” CNN, Aug. 31, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/31/asia/taliban-mullah-omar-death/index.html. [41] Jack Moore, “Al-Qaeda’s Zawahiri Calls on Supporters to Reject ISIS and Support Taliban,” Newsweek, Aug. 22, 2016, https://www.newsweek.com/al-qaedas-zawahiri-calls-supporters-reject-isis-and-support-taliban-492337. [42] Barbara Elias, “Know Thine Enemy,” Foreign Affairs, Nov. 2, 2009, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/pakistan/2009-11-02/know-thine-enemy. [43] Douglas Frantz and David Rohde, “A NATION CHALLENGED: THE BOND; How Bin Laden and Taliban Forged Jihad Ties,” New York Times, Nov. 22, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/22/world/a-nation-challenged-the-bond-how-bin-laden-and-taliban-forged-jihad-ties.html. [44] Coll, Directorate S. [45] “The Al-Qaeda-Taliban Nexus,” Council on Foreign Relations, Nov. 24, 2009, https://www.cfr.org/expert-roundup/al-qaeda-taliban-nexus; Tricia Bacon and Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault, “Did Bin Laden’s Death Help the Islamic State?” Washington Post, May 2, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/05/02/did-bin-ladens-death-help-the-islamic-state/. [46] Bill Roggio, “Full Statement of Mullah Mansour Accepting Al Qaeda’s Oath of Allegiance,” FDD's Long War Journal, Aug. 14, 2015, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/08/full-statement-of-mullah-mansour-accepting-al-qaedas-oath-of-allegiance.php. [47] Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman Al Zawahiri Swears Allegiance to the Taliban’s New Leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php. [48] Abdulqahar Balkhi, “Message of Felicitation of the Esteemed Amir-Ul-Momineen, Shiekh-Ul-Hadith Hibatullah Akhundzada, (May Allah Protect Him), on the Occasion of Eid-Ul-Adha – Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Aug. 30, 2017, https://alemarah-english.com/?p=19352. [49] Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, “Taliban Rejects Peace Talks, Emphasizes Alliance with Al Qaeda in New Video,” FDD’s Long War Journal, Dec. 9, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/12/taliban-rejects-peace-talks-emphasizes-alliance-with-al-qaeda-in-new-video.php. [50] Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt, “White House Orders Direct Taliban Talks to Jump-Start Afghan Negotiations” New York Times, July 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-direct-negotiations.html. [51] Michael Semple,“Top Priorities for New Afghan Taliban Chief,” CNN, May 25, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/24/opinions/challenges-for-next-taliban-leader/index.html. [52] Theo Farrell and Michael Semple, “Making Peace with the Taliban,” Survival 57, no. 6 (2015), https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2015.1116157. [53]For figures on these costs, see Brown University Watson Institute Costs of War Project, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/. [54] David Rapoport originated the idea of “waves” of terrorism. See his article “The Fourth Wave: September 11 in the History of Terrorism,” Current History, 100 (December 2001), http://www.currenthistory.com/Article.php?ID=226. [55] Barak Mendelsohn, The Al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and its Consequences (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Camille Tawil, Brothers in Arms: The Story of Al-Qa’ida and the Arab Jihadists (London: Saqi Books, 2010; translated from the 2007 Arabic edition). [56] See the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation Mapping Militants Project, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. The website has detailed profiles of the militant groups mentioned in this analysis as well as diagrams of their relationships. The sources for the profiles are fully cited. For the most recent profile updates email crenshaw@stanford.edu. See also Martha Crenshaw, “Transnational Jihadism & Civil Wars,” Daedalus, 146, no. 4 (Fall 2017), https://doi.org/10.1162/DAED_a_00459. [57] For a comprehensive account upon which many of the following observations are based see Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Evolution of an Insurgency (London: Hurst Publishers, 2015); and “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham: to Unite or to Divide the Ranks?” in How Al-Qaeda Survived Drones, Uprisings, and the Islamic State: The Nature of the Current Threat, ed. Aaron Y. Zelin (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2017). [58] Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, “U.S. Places Militant Syrian Rebel Group on List of Terrorist Organizations,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/world/middleeast/us-designates-syrian-al-nusra-front-as-terrorist-group.html. [59] Mark MazzettiAdam Goldman, and Michael S. Schmidt, “Behind the Sudden Death of a $1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria,” New York Times, Aug. 2, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/world/middleeast/cia-syria-rebel-arm-train-trump.html. [60] Karen DeYoung, Liz Sly, and Missy Ryan,” US airstrikes target Al-Qaeda faction in Syria,” Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2014/11/06/d860ef47-40fa-4f85-8753-0d9de0a6830b_story.html?utm_term=.1d09add13f39. [61] See the profile of Ahrar Al-Sham on the website Mapping Militant Organizations, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. [62] DeYoung, et al., “US airstrikes”; and Lister, The Syrian Jihad. [63] As the organization evolved and the military situation grew more desperate, the al-Nusra group, in its new form as HTS, agreed to cooperate with Turkey, thus leading to more internal disputes and splits. See Akil Hussein, “Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s Deal with Turkey Further Alienates It from Other Jihadists,” The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, (November 2017), https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/hayat-tahrir-al-shams-deal-with-turkey-further-alienates-it-from-other-jihadists. [64] For an account of the evolution of al-Nusra, see the profile on the website Mapping Militant Organizations, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. On its transformation into HTS, see also Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria. [65] Charles Lister, “How al-Qa`ida Lost Control of its Syrian Affiliate: The Inside Story,” CTC Sentinel 11, no. 2 (February 2018), https://ctc.usma.edu/al-qaida-lost-control-syrian-affiliate-inside-story/. [66] Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Prepares to Reduce Troops and Shed Missions in Africa,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 2018,  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/01/world/africa/us-withdraw-troops-africa.html. [67] Speech at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies quoted in Dan Lamothe, “Mattis Unveils new Strategy Focused on Russia and China, Takes Congress to Task for Budget Impasse,” Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2018/01/19/mattis-calls-for-urgent-change-to-counter-russia-and-china-in-new-pentagon-strategy/?utm_term=.bd234c8cc0e5. [68] For an overview see Christopher S. Chivvis and Andrew Liepman, North Africa’s Menace: AQIM’s Evolution and the U.S. Policy Response (Santa Monica: Rand, 2013) and Marc Mémier, “AQMI et Al-Mourabitoun: le djihad sahélien réunifié?” Etudes de l’Ifri, 2017, http://base.afrique-gouvernance.net/docs/memier_aqmi_et_al-mourabitoun_fr_2017.compressed.pdf. See also Sergei Boeke, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Terrorism, insurgency, or organized crime?” Small Wars & Insurgencies 27, no. 5 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2016.1208280. [69] An analysis of the violent competition among the rebel groups in the Algerian civil war leading up to the 2006 merger is found in Mohammed M. Hafez, “Fratricidal Rebels: Ideological Extremity and Warring Factionalism in Civil Wars,” Terrorism and Political Violence 29, no. 6 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2017.1389726. [70] See Chivvis and Liepman, North Africa’s Menace; and Mémier, “AQMI et Al-Mourabitoun,.”  See also Samuel L. Aronson, “AQIM’s Threat to Western Interests in the Sahel,” CTC Sentinel 7, no. 4 (April 2014), https://ctc.usma.edu/aqims-threat-to-western-interests-in-the-sahel/. [71] See David J. Francis, “The regional impact of the armed conflict and French intervention in Mali,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre Report (April 2013), http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/7911~v~The_regional_impact_of_the_armed_conflict_and_French_intervention_in_Mali.pdf. [72] For a theoretical account of how AQIM has survived through fragmentation, also well-informed by primary sources, see Adib Bencherif, “From Resilience to Fragmentation: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Jihadist Group Modularity,” Terrorism and Political Violence (2017), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09546553.2017.1351956. [73] See commentary by the International Crisis Group, “The Sahel: Mali’s Crumbling Peace Process and the Spreading Jihadist Threat,” March 1, 2017, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/mali/sahel-malis-crumbling-peace-process-and-spreading-jihadist-threat. [74] On the difficulties faced by the task force see, “Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force,” International Crisis Group Report No. 258, Dec. 12, 2017, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/258-force-du-g5-sahel-trouver-sa-place-dans-lembouteillage-securitaire. [75] “State Department Terrorist Designation of Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM),” State Department, Sept. 5, 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/09/285705.htm. [76] Eric Schmitt, “Under Trump, U.S. Launched 8 Airstrikes Against ISIS in Libya. It Disclosed 4,” New York Times, March 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/world/africa/us-airstrikes-isis-libya.html. Also Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Strikes Qaeda Target in Southern Libya, Expanding Shadow War There,” New York Times, March 25, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/25/world/middleeast/us-bombs-qaeda-libya.html. [77] “Transcript of President Bush’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday Night, September 20, 2001,” CNN, Sept. 21, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/. [78] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9-11 Commission Report (Washington, DC: Norton, 2004), 379. [79] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). [80] Peter Bergen, Albert Ford, Alyssa Sims, and David Sterman, “Terrorism in America After 9/11: Part I. Terrorism Cases: 2001-Today,” New America, accessed September 9, 2018, https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/terrorism-in-america/part-i-overview-terrorism-cases-2001-today/. [81] Robert S. Mueller,III, “FBI Headquarters Press Availability on the FBI’s Reorganization: Re-Engineering the FBI for Today’s World,” FBI, May 29, 2002, https://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/fbi-headquarters-press-availability-on-the-fbis-reorganization-re-engineering-the-fbi-for-todays-world. [82] “FBI Focus to Shift to Terrorism Prevention,” CNN, May 29, 2002, http://edition.cnn.com/2002/US/05/29/fbi.direction/. [83] Charles Lister, “Al Qaeda Is About to Establish an Emirate in Northern Syria,” Foreign Policy, May 4, 2016, https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/04/al-qaeda-is-about-to-establish-an-emirate-in-northern-syria/. [84] Cameron Glenn, “Timeline: The Rise, Spread and Fall of the Islamic State,” Wilson Center, June 1, 2018, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/timeline-the-rise-spread-and-fall-the-islamic-state. [85] Ryan Pickrell, “Al Qaeda Terrorist Considered ‘probably the Most Sophisticated Terrorist Bomb-Maker on the Planet’ Was Killed by US Drone Strike, US Officials Confirm,” Business Insider, Aug. 20, 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/top-al-qaeda-bomb-maker-ibrahim-al-asiri-killed-in-us-drone-strike-2018-8. [86] “Who Are Somalia’s Al-Shabab?,” BBC News, Dec. 22, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15336689. [87] Bill Roggio and Alexandra Gutowski, “US Military on Track to Match Record 2017 for Airstrikes in Somalia,” FDDs Long War Journal, Aug. 29, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/08/shabaab-strike-mogadishu.php. [88] “Yemeni Forces Retake City from Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, Apr. 25, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36128614. [89] Alex Hollings, “Mattis, Dunford Weigh in on ‘annihilating’ ISIS and How Far We’ve Already Come,” NEWSREP, May 23, 2017, https://thenewsrep.com/81860/mattis-dunford-weigh-in-on-annihilating-isis-and-how-far-weve-already-come/. [90] Ryan Browne and Eli Watkins, “US Forces Confirm Death of ISIS Leader in Afghanistan,” CNN, Sept. 3, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/02/politics/isis-leader-killed-afghanistan. [91] Bruce Hoffman, “Al-Qaeda’s Resurrection,” Council on Foreign Relations, Mar. 6, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/expert-brief/al-qaedas-resurrection. [92] Hassan Hassan, “ISIS Is Ready for a Resurgence,” Atlantic, Aug. 26, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/08/baghdadi-recording-iraq-syria-terrorism/568471/. [93] Michael Dempsey, “The Islamic State Threat Hasn’t Gone Away,” Axios, July 31, 2018, https://www.axios.com/the-islamic-state-threat-hasnt-gone-away-f57adb1b-6fe4-4f4d-8bd4-589be98f9eba.html. [94] Richard Hall, “UN Says 30,000 ISIS Fighters Remain in Iraq and Syria,” National, Aug. 14, 2018, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/un-says-30-000-isis-fighters-remain-in-iraq-and-syria-1.759695. See also “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations, July 27, 2018, http://undocs.org/S/2018/705. [95] Michael P. 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[120] Boaz Ganor, “Defining Terrorism - Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?” IDC Herzliya, accessed Sept. 10, 2018, https://www.ict.org.il/Article/1123/Defining-Terrorism-Is-One-Mans-Terrorist-Another-Mans-Freedom-Fighter - gsc.tab=0. [121] Martha Crenshaw Hutchinson, “The Concept of Revolutionary Terrorism,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 16, no. 3 (September 1972), https://www.jstor.org/stable/173583. [122] Haroro J. Ingram and Craig Whiteside, “In Search of the Virtual Caliphate: Convenient Fallacy, Dangerous Distraction,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 27, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/in-search-of-the-virtual-caliphate-convenient-fallacy-dangerous-distraction/. [123] Robin Wright, “The Ignominious End of the ISIS Caliphate,” New Yorker, Oct. 17, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-ignominious-end-of-the-isis-caliphate. [124] Kori Schake, “Realism, Liberalism, and the Ideological Origins of the Iraq War,” ISA panel remarks, moderated by Michael Cox and with John Ikenberry, Daniel Duedney, John Mearsheimer, Michael Williams, Beate Jahn, James Goldgeiger, Patrick Porter, and Joseph Nye (San Francisco, April 4, 2018). [125] “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002,” Public Law 107–243, Oct. 16, 2002. [126] Jack Goldsmith, “The 2002 Iraq AUMF Almost Certainly Authorizes the President to Use Force Today in Iraq (and Might Authorize the Use of Force in Syria) [UPDATED],” Lawfare, June 13 2014, https://www.lawfareblog.com/2002-iraq-aumf-almost-certainly-authorizes-president-use-force-today-iraq-and-might-authorize-use. [127] Mackenzie Eaglen, “In Search of the White Whale: The National Defense Strategy’s Quest for Lethality,” Texas National Security Review, Roundtable, Jan. 26, 2018, https://tnsr.org/roundtable/policy-roundtable-close-look-2018-national-defense-strategy/ - essay3. [128] Peter Mattis, “From Engagement to Rivalry: Tools to Compete with China,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 4 (August 2018), https://tnsr.org/2018/08/from-engagement-to-rivalry-tools-to-compete-with-china/. [129] Richard Javad Heydarian, “Duterte’s Efforts to Align the Philippines With China Face a Backlash,” World Politics Review, July 19, 2018, https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/25126/duterte-s-efforts-to-align-the-philippines-with-china-face-a-backlash; Damien Cave, “Espionage Bills in Australia Stir Fears of Anti-Chinese Backlash,” New York Times, Dec. 19, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/19/world/australia/australia-china-backlash-influence.html. 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[142] “Remarks by President Trump on the Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia,” The White House, Aug. 21, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-strategy-afghanistan-south-asia/. [143] Christopher Woody, “How Jim Mattis Defused a White House Confrontation That Left Reince Priebus Saying ‘WTF,’” Business Insider, Feb. 8, 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/mattis-trump-defused-white-house-clash-priebus-mcmaster-2018-2. [144] “Remarks by President Trump on the Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia.” [145] Jennifer Cafarella, Caitlin Forrest, and Charles Aubin, “ISIS Plotting Attacks from Afghanistan,” Institute for the Study of War, Nov. 17, 2017, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/isis-plotting-attacks-afghanistan. [146] A. Trevor Thrall and Benjamin H. 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[150] “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, accessed Sept. 9, 2018, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm. [151] A. Trevor Thrall and Eric Goepner, “Step Back: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy from the Failed War on Terror,” Cato Institute, June 26, 2017, 9, https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa-814.pdf. [152] Helene Cooper, “U.S. Braces for Return of Terrorist Safe Havens to Afghanistan,” New York Times, March 13, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/12/world/middleeast/military-safe-havens-afghanistan.html. [153] “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan” U.S. Department of Defense, December 2017, 1, https://media.defense.gov/2017/Dec/15/2001856979/-1/-1/1/1225-REPORT-DEC-2017-FINAL-UNCLASS-BASE.PDF. [154] Peter Bergen, “It’s Trump’s War ... and It’s Not Going Well,” CNN, Sept. 3, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/20/opinions/trump-afghanistan-war-not-going-well-bergen/index.html. [155] “Freedom in the World 2018,” Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/afghanistan; Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 in Afghanistan, Transparency International, https://www.transparency.org/country/AFG. [156] “Remarks by President Trump on the Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia.” ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction: A Most Infamous Day: Marking the 17th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks, by Ryan Evans 2. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: The Alliance that Started the Forever War, By Tricia Bacon 3. The Long Aftermath of 9/11: How Terrorism Doesn’t End, by Martha Crenshaw 4. With Us and Against Us: Understanding the Mixed Record of U.S. Partners on Counter-Terrorism Cooperation Since 9/11, by Stephen Tankel 5. What Progress Has America Made after 17 Years of Global Counter-Terrorism Efforts? by Michael P. Dempsey 6. Retrospect and Prospect: On Endless War, by David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside 7. Another Year of the War in Afghanistan, by A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 651 [post_author] => 186 [post_date] => 2018-07-31 05:00:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-31 09:00:03 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: A Timely Assessment of U.S. Counterterrorism Partnerships

By Derek Chollet With many Americans — led by the current occupant of the White House — questioning the value of global partnerships and talking as though the United States would be better off going it alone, there is no better time to assess the role other countries play in achieving U.S. counterterrorism objectives. Anyone who has been involved in crafting U.S. counterterrorism policy inside the government knows the essential importance of these relationships. But they also are soberly aware of how troubling they can be. America’s fight against terror has been the subject of a mountain of books over the nearly two decades since 9/11. Most have been inside-accounts of policymaking from Washington’s bureaucratic trenches or dramatic tales of counterterrorism missions. Yet few have made a systematic assessment, benefitting from the latest scholarship, of the ways counterterrorism cooperation actually works, showing how and why success is often so elusive. That’s what makes Stephen Tankel’s latest book, With Us and Against Us, so timely. It combines his solid grounding in the academic literature on alliances and international cooperation with his first-hand experience in sausage-making policy at the Pentagon to give readers a comprehensive and thought-provoking tour through some of the toughest — and certainly most frustrating — counterterrorism relationships in recent U.S. history. The fight against terrorism is usually discussed simplistically as one in which there are only friends and enemies, best summarized by the “with us or against us” statement of President George W. Bush just a week after the September 11 attacks. Yet the reality is far more complex, and the countries that take up the most time for policymakers are those that fall in between the categories of ally or foe — especially Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Mali, and Pakistan. In many ways, when it comes to tackling terrorist threats, these countries are both firefighters and arsonists. And while cooperation with them is crucial, it has been exceedingly difficult, whether because of state weakness, conflicting interests, or outright duplicity. Tankel takes a deep-dive into the toughest cases, detailing the recent history of Washington’s approach toward these “frenemies” and providing a useful analytical framework for understanding when and why success is possible or not. It is an unflinching account of how difficult these partners can be. He also reveals the difficulties that the United States itself brings to the table, whether it is unrealistic expectations that cooperation will be easier or leverage more effective, over-reliance on military tools, sending mixed messages, or misunderstanding threat perceptions. Any aspiring policymaker will benefit from this book, as well as by following the debate and discussion it provokes, illustrated by the three insightful contributions to this roundtable. In a comprehensive overview of Tankel’s book, Stanford’s Martha Crenshaw supports his core arguments, highlighting the value of his conceptualization of the challenge and his clear and informative case studies. At the same time, she also proposes several interesting avenues of research that are worth further exploration. For example, Crenshaw highlights the fact that, despite trillions of dollars spent on a variety of counterterrorism activities during the past 15 years, the United States still has difficulty accounting for where the money goes and what precisely the impact has been. She also makes the intriguing suggestion that there is something to learn from U.S. efforts to cooperate with other countries in other security areas, such as with Mexico in counter-narcotics efforts and law enforcement. Finally, Crenshaw echoes a point Tankel stresses: The United States will never be able to get more out of its partnerships with these difficult states unless it develops a comprehensive, clearly articulated counterterrorism policy with improved integration of policy tools. Tankel’s concluding chapter offers some pragmatic suggestions, but the subject is so knotted it warrants a book of its own. Jacob Shapiro, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, seems to agree with many of Tankel’s and Crenshaw’s assessments and policy recommendations, but focuses mainly on the theoretical foundations of Tankel’s work, offering an alternative academic literature, which he argues provides a more compelling way to understand the problem. (Crenshaw makes a similar point, but spends far less time on the subject.) Instead of seeing these counterterrorism partnerships as interstate security relationships relying on the logic of alliances, Shapiro contends that they are better described as interdependent relationships with only partially-aligned interests, and, therefore, are better understood through the frameworks of agency theory and organizational economics. To make his case, Shapiro highlights the work of other scholars working in these traditions, going into detail about theoretical arguments that will be unfamiliar to many non-academic readers, including this one. His explanation of competing conceptual arguments is informative and adds some nuance to Tankel’s analysis. But despite the differences in theoretical approach, the bottom-line remains essentially the same: If interests diverge and threats to punish partner states — such as curtailing engagement or withholding assistance — don’t generate meaningful costs, then cooperation will be limited. Policymakers fully understand this point, as Christine Abizaid’s thoughtful and revealing response to Tankel makes clear. Abizaid spent several years during the Obama administration shaping the Pentagon’s approach toward Pakistan. Her account reinforces Tankel’s narrative about the difficulties in dealing with that deeply troubled but essential counterterrorism partner. She reviews the tangled recent history of Washington’s attempts to influence Islamabad’s behavior to make it a more “strategic partner,” from pouring in civilian and security assistance to threatening to withhold it. These efforts achieved narrow results where interests overlapped — such as the disruption of al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban — but not the kind of strategic shift anyone hoped for. Creating and using leverage has proven to be much easier in theory than it is in practice. So where does this leave things? Taken together, Tankel’s book and the responses to it in this roundtable explain the limits of American power, even when it comes to addressing an issue that is at the core of U.S. national security. All these authors suggest ways the United States could be more effective in getting what it wants — such as by better understanding America’s partners, adjusting expectations, sending a consistent message about goals and redlines, and having greater balance among U.S. military, diplomatic, and development tools. These are hard to achieve even in the best of times. With the current administration, progress in any of these areas seems unlikely. Although none of these authors offer a silver bullet — or assert that any are available — policymakers and citizens alike will benefit from thinking about the post-9/11 counterterrorism challenge, soon entering its third decade, with a clearer analytical framework and a dispassionate understanding of recent history. And in this respect, Tankel’s With Us or Against Us, and the essays it inspired in this roundtable, are a terrific place to start. Derek Chollet is Executive Vice President of The German Marshall Fund of the United States. A former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense, his latest book is The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World.  

2. The Imperfect Truth Behind Counterterrorism Partnerships: Reality Bites

By Christine Abizaid Seventeen years after al-Qaeda’s devastating attack on the U.S. homeland, the U.S. fight against terrorism goes on amidst questions of how best to wage that fight, in what geographic boundaries to engage, against what permutation of the enemy, and toward what ultimate end the United States is fighting. In April, Congress attempted to energize the national debate on these questions when Senators Bob Corker and Tim Kaine reached across the aisle to collaborate on a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) aimed at better situating the Executive’s power to wage war against terrorists within a clarified constitutional framework.[1] While the discussion continues about whether their particular bill improves the current authorities structure, one aspect of the debate must not be overlooked: The United States cannot fight terrorism alone. This is where Stephen Tankel’s new book, With Us and Against Us,[2] makes an important contribution. Tankel provides counterterrorism professionals, U.S. policymakers, and the academy a serious and thoughtful examination of one the most complex aspects of the United States’ counterterrorism strategy: working by, with, and through partners to protect the United States. By focusing on Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Mali, Algeria, and Pakistan, Tankel chooses to tackle the most challenging of these partnerships, and in so doing, provides insight into the necessary tradeoffs and many limitations the United States must navigate in trying to meet its counterterrorism objectives. Counterterrorism (CT) partnerships are not often given their due credit for the role they play in enabling the United States’ CT successes. However, as Tankel demonstrates, partnerships — yes, even the difficult ones — are the essential ingredient to any successful effort to protect U.S. citizens, U.S. interests, and the U.S. homeland. Maintaining them requires a steady hand. The current administration would do well to recognize just how many of America’s CT achievements in the past 17 years have relied on other countries, as well as how the United States’ ability to form these partnerships has been underpinned by its leadership and credibility in the world. That credibility allowed America to build the kind of counterterrorism coalition that has, so far, protected it from another attack on the scale of 9/11. Preserving it is no small task. It requires hard work and wisdom from civil servants and political leaders, alike, who must articulate to both the American public and partners abroad what the U.S. strategy is and how it will advance everyone’s goals against terrorist violence. The Trump administration has yet to coherently communicate its CT vision or explain why America’s overseas engagements, military and non-military alike, are worth the risks they entail. The longer the U.S. CT strategy remains unnecessarily shrouded in mystery, the higher the costs will be to the execution of CT operations and to the U.S. coalition against terrorism. Credibility and strategic communication, therefore, must go hand-in-hand. Burden-Sharing in the Fight Against Terrorists As a former practitioner, I am grateful for Tankel’s recognition of the United States’ partner-dependency as a key aspect of its CT approach. Indeed, over the years, the United States has built “patterns of cooperation with partner nations [as] a way to increase burden sharing and make U.S. counterterrorism efforts more sustainable.”[3] Although many books have been published about CT in the post-9/11 era, few have dealt as directly with the complex situation in which the United States, working alongside its partners, has sought to prosecute its CT objectives. Direct action operations — including the deployment of U.S. military boots-on-the-ground and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly referred to as drone strikes) — have been the subject of much recent study in so far as they pertain to the efficacy of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.[4] Interest in the topic grew as the Obama administration expanded its predecessor’s use of these tactics, including in areas outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the nature of the metastasizing terrorist threat demanded American action.[5] However, even U.S. direct action is not accomplished in a vacuum. It is the end result of a complex set of access agreements, overflight approvals, strategic asset positioning, and bilateral negotiations, all of which must be pursued in concert with partners before the United States is able to act against threats internationally and outside of declared war zones. Moreover, direct action is just one aspect of the U.S. CT effort that is reliant on America’s relationships with other states. Tankel rightly observes that, “[b]ecause the United States cannot and should not put combat troops on the ground in every country where terrorists operate, it has looked to partner nations to act as the tip of the spear…” The U.S. ability to disrupt specific threats to the homeland has required a complex array of intelligence relationships. It has been able to dismantle some terrorist networks overseas only through robust law enforcement cooperation. And even its ability to try foreign terrorists in U.S. criminal courts has rested on the United States’ skill in working with its partners across the globe. Cooperation with foreign partners has significant bearing on the United States’ ability to pursue its national interests abroad. In the case of CT, that cooperation requires deft maneuvering, often on short timelines and with lives at stake, only adding to the pressures of getting things right. There is no one-size-fits all approach to counterterrorism partnerships. Tankel demonstrates this fact in great detail in his case study examination of different U.S. partnerships. Each partner has its own security paradigm, unique history with the United States, capacity limitations, and individualized approach to dealing with both domestic and regional developments. All of these influence partner perceptions of local CT dynamics and the value of working with the United States to achieve CT goals. In no case is it more apparent how these dynamics can lead to difficult tradeoffs than in the case of Pakistan. Satisficing with Pakistan … Tankel is an expert on Pakistan’s history with terrorism and his chapter on this relationship is well worth the price of admission. He rightly characterizes the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as riddled by divergent threat perceptions, a history of mistrust, and different approaches to threat mitigation. Both as a former counterterrorism intelligence officer and former U.S. defense official with policy oversight of U.S. security assistance to Pakistan, I regularly wrestled with the complexity of this relationship. Whether having to do with the United States’ CT imperatives in Afghanistan, concerns over a volatile relationship between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, specific threats to the United States and U.S. forces emerging from a vibrant militant safehaven in Pakistan’s tribal areas, or mourning with Pakistani counterparts over losses their country has experienced at the hands of terrorists, America’s engagement with Pakistan has always been filled with contradictions. Despite the nuances and frustrations of working with a partner that has so many security priorities out-of-step with those of the United States, the relationship with Pakistan has always been critical to the U.S. ability to pursue its vital national security interests in the region. How best to work with Pakistan to achieve the United States’ CT goals has been a hotly debated topic, full of criticism, optimism, skepticism, and even naïveté. And yet, while America’s record of cooperation with Pakistan is not straightforward or clear-cut, that cooperation has been essential to the protection of the United States. On the one hand, Pakistan has been one of the United States’ most prolific partners in the fight against al-Qaeda. For several years after its ouster from Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s network in Pakistan presented the most significant threat to the U.S. homeland and the West — a reality America’s British partners experienced firsthand when operatives guided by al-Qaeda’s Pakistan-based leadership attacked the London underground and buses on July 7, 2005. America’s Pakistani partners understood U.S. and Western concerns, and over time, cooperated with the United States to neutralize operatives, disrupt plots, and pressure those parts of al-Qaeda’s network residing in the country. This CT cooperation resulted in some of the most important disruptions to al-Qaeda’s network over the course of its existence (this, despite Pakistan’s non-cooperation during the raid on which U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Abottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011). On the other hand, some of the fundamental enablers of al-Qaeda’s network in Pakistan have been viewed by Pakistan’s military as too precious, or too dangerous, to make a move against. As Tankel describes it, “No amount of [financial] assistance or threats to withhold it would lead the Pakistani security establishment to turn on the Taliban, Haqqani network, or other state-allied organizations.”[6] These groups’ Pakistan-based infrastructure has supported, even if indirectly, the efforts of groups like al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistani (TTP) against the United States and the West, creating a persistent threat in and from the region in a way Pakistan has yet to fully acknowledge through deed or word.[7] Of course, every nation acts in its own self-interest and Pakistan is no different. It just has yet to calculate that its approach to terrorism actually accrues to its own detriment. The United States’ challenge remains how to convince Pakistan that what Tankel rightly describes as Islamabad’s “segmented” approach to terrorists and militants is, in the long run, the primary threat to its own existence, and is not merely a problem for U.S. security interests in the region.[8] It is not clear why this has been such a difficult case for America to make. Over time, the threat from Pakistan’s tribal areas has morphed from one that was largely externally focused to one that increasingly has included Pakistan’s settled regions. At no point has Pakistan’s cultivation of non-state actors actually improved its own security outlook over the long term. And yet, even today, as Islamabad struggles with terrorist threats to civilians in its most populous cities,[9] the Pakistani military refuses to take a consistent position that fundamentally challenges terrorist and militant exploitation of Pakistani soil. Tankel is correct that, over the course of America’s post-9/11 relationship with Pakistan, the space for CT cooperation gradually narrowed.[10] By the end of the Obama administration, patience with Pakistan had run thin, both in the Executive branch and in Congress. Despite regularly engaging on the importance of dealing once-and-for-all with those whom the United States perceived as serious threat actors, Pakistan continued to hedge. Meanwhile, the U.S. security dynamics were changing. Al-Qaeda’s network was on the ropes and America’s presence across the border in Afghanistan was shrinking, meaning there were fewer U.S. security imperatives on which to build with Pakistan. The United States began signaling that, with its reduced regional presence, Pakistan should expect gradual reductions in U.S. security assistance. Pakistan complained, but did not change the kind of behavior that Washington had made clear was problematic. So, in 2015, when Department of Defense policymakers recommended for the first time that the secretary of defense effectively withhold $300 million in security assistance intended for Pakistan,[11] Islamabad was not pleased. Unfortunately, they were also unmoved. While Pakistan counted on U.S. security assistance to fund important military and non-military initiatives that helped the country remain financially solvent, it was clearly not reliant enough on U.S. funding — nor appreciative enough of or confident enough in the relationship with the United States — to meaningfully change its strategic approach to terrorist and militant groups. Pakistan has been playing a dangerous game for years, supporting terrorist and militant proxies that it found useful and cracking down on elements that posed a significant threat to the West and to Pakistan. Some of those proxies evolved to become not instruments of the state, but instead unpredictable allies, liabilities to control, and eventually, in some cases, threats to Pakistan itself. By segmenting their approach to this evolving threat landscape, Pakistani generals have established for themselves an environment that will fuel the country’s own insecurity for years to come. As long as this policy continues, Islamabad will be trading a healthy relationship with the international community with one that too often caters to hostage-takers in the region. So What Do We Do? It is unlikely the United States will be able to talk Pakistan out of viewing certain non-state actors as critical foreign policy tools. Between this, Pakistan’s prioritization of a perceived threat from India, and its unwillingness to strategically cooperate on Afghanistan, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is fated to remain transactional. Progress will center on those narrow issues on which the two countries can agree. And paradoxically, given their joint disruption over the last 17 years of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda or TTP, there are fewer and fewer issues on which they can easily, transactionally cooperate. America’s CT successes have changed the U.S. security paradigm in the region and Pakistan’s calculation of what is in its own self-interest militates against expansive cooperation with the United States. Conversations with Pakistan about regional security will only get less satisfactory from here on out. And yet, the United States must not disengage. America’s ability to manage this relationship and extract cooperation will be critical to achieving its goal of never again allowing this region to become a platform from which terrorists can threaten the U.S. homeland. The Trump administration has upped the ante for Pakistan, threatening to withdraw all security cooperation, including support for Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts in the tribal region.[12] It is hard not to take some satisfaction in signaling to Pakistan that its incremental approach to meeting U.S. counterterrorism and security needs is no longer acceptable. But that doesn’t mean the tactic will work. If Pakistan cared that much about U.S. largesse, it would have changed its behavior when the U.S. government first signaled a reduction in funding levels in 2014. Additionally, the U.S. military still has over 10,000 troops in Afghanistan helping Afghan forces fight a resilient insurgency, over which Pakistan has significant influence.[13] The United States needs to leverage what partnership it does have with Pakistan to get the Taliban to the negotiating table and deter insurgent violence in the region. Pakistan is the key to shrinking the size of the Afghan insurgency, thus enabling Afghan forces to truly own security in their country, and giving the United States the ability to draw down in the region with the confidence that its local security partners can contain the terrorist and militant threat. Disengagement will not help make that argument, nor will it put the United States in a position to steer Pakistan away from strategic miscalculation or mismanagement in the region that could lead to a nuclear exchange. This is where neither Tankel’s work, nor any work in the last 17 years (including this book review) has offered a real solution to how America can move to a truly strategic partnership with Pakistan. As Tankel’s other case studies also show, no CT fight abroad can be narrowly waged. Effective CT campaigns cannot stop at targeting terrorists. They have to address the underlying causes that create the conditions that terrorists exploit. Dealing with those underlying causes is a long and costly affair, especially in a region as multi-layered as South Asia. Fundamentally, to make progress against such an enormous challenge, America must broadly share with its partners the same basic interests. That is just not the case with Pakistan. The United States is now at a stage in its CT campaign where it can and should move away from counterterrorism as the orienting principle for its engagement in the world. To do that, a partnered approach, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, is more important than ever. But how much America must invest — or sacrifice — to make those partnerships work for both sides remains a difficult equation to solve, especially because every situation requires a unique solution tailored to the circumstances of the region in question. This dilemma is well captured through Tankel’s exploration of America’s most complex counterterrorism relationships. He exposes with great clarity and a sense of history and proportion the difficulty associated with maneuvering through intractable problem sets with multifaceted partners. In so doing, Tankel provides an objective perspective on why these relationships can be so problematic, even when dealing with a threat that, from the U.S. perspective, appears so straightforward. As policymakers continue to evaluate how best to navigate these relationships to protect the United States, they would do well to read With Us and Against Us, absorb what it has to say about the difficulties ahead, and enter into counterterrorism partnerships clear-eyed and purposeful, knowing there is much history — and folly — to learn from. Christine Abizaid served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia from July 2014 to August 2016.  

3. Counterterrorism Partnerships: A Two-Way Street

By Martha Crenshaw Stephen Tankel’s latest book, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror,[14] makes a valuable contribution to better understanding the complicated picture of post 9/11 counterterrorism, a topic that is especially relevant now that the global war on terrorism seems both endless and inconclusive. His thorough research delves into the understudied domain of the role of America’s partners in the war on terror, highlighting the fact that effective counterterrorism is difficult in both its conceptualization and its implementation. American leaders, beginning with Donald Rumsfeld, have struggled to measure or demonstrate the effectiveness of chosen counterterrorism policies, ranging from the blunt use of military force to the subtleties of “countering violent extremism” (CVE) or preventing “radicalization.” Tankel is to be further commended for situating his analysis of counterterrorism cooperation in the general framework of theories of alliances and foreign policy, rather than treating it in isolation. Implicit in his analysis is a critical question about the current U.S. strategy of “by, with, and through,” which emphasizes reliance on local forces rather than committing American combat ground forces in large numbers.[15] This model may have been successful in destroying the Islamic State (ISIS) caliphate after 2014, but the United States should be cautious about relying on it as a general solution to managing civil conflict. Recommending caution does not imply that unilateralism is a better alternative. However, U.S. decision-makers need a better grip on appraising the security interests and cooperative inclinations of local partners in the war on terror. In his book, Tankel develops a specific question: What can the United States reasonably expect from its partners in counterterrorism operations abroad? His answer is based on an impartial consideration of a select subset of those partners: states that have active jihadist insurgencies and terrorist groups and that are aided by the United States in the absence of any formal treaty obligations. To be included in Tankel’s analysis, these states must also be countries where the United States does not or did not have a major military presence. Afghanistan and Iraq are thus excluded as Iraq is a former occupation zone, and nearly 15,000 active troops are still deployed in Afghanistan. Included in his sample set are Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The set is thus weighted toward the Middle East and North Africa, where the United States is engaged in extremely volatile conflicts with local and transnational dimensions. To put this selection in global context, by mid-2017, U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed to 137 countries.[16] While these partner states are relatively friendly to the United States, the strength of each bilateral alliance varies. Some partners are much more ambivalent and reluctant — indeed recalcitrant — than others. In addition, some ongoing conflicts are more “frontline” in nature for the United States than others, making American interest in partner security uneven. The comparative case studies that Tankel presents are tightly organized around four aspects of partnership: domestic counterterrorism efforts, tactical cooperation with the United States, regional cooperation, and the somewhat ambiguous catch-all of “countering violent extremism.” The case studies are clear and informative, presented chronologically, giving the reader a sense of how cooperation has fluctuated over time. Tankel argues that U.S. expectations of partner cooperation should be tempered by the recognition that there is often a fundamental misalignment of the threat perceptions of a given terrorist group or insurgency. This misalignment seems largely inevitable and likely to continue. To the United States, the threat is external. The greatest concern is preventing terrorist attacks on the American homeland that might emanate from groups active in these countries, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan, both of which have directed terrorist plots against the United States that came near to completion.[17] AQAP was behind the thwarted Christmas 2009 airliner bombing, and LeT instigated the Times Square bombing plot in 2010.[18] But these instances of externally organized terrorism are rare. There is also the danger of decentralized “homegrown” terrorism, inspired by jihadist appeals to action, especially from ISIS. Still, the direct terrorist threat to the United States from these groups is far from existential. The United States also has a less proximate, but nevertheless real, interest in ensuring that hostile jihadist organizations do not take over territory that they can then use to attack Americans or to destabilize local allies. Hence the switch from opposing Bashar al-Assad to opposing ISIS in the Syrian civil war after ISIS had declared its caliphate and occupied large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. The United States is similarly concerned with groups in Pakistan that undermine the security of Afghanistan. For the weaker partners at the center of Tankel’s analysis, the threat is primarily an internal one — and sometimes even an existential one. Cross-border transnational terrorism overlaps with local insurgencies that undermine state control and could potentially trigger the collapse of the state. What is at stake for these countries is profound. Yet, paradoxically, sometimes the “threat” is also an asset. Some of these partners agree with the U.S. position that jihadist groups are belligerent opposing forces to be diminished, defeated, or eradicated, even at high cost. Others see good reason to collaborate with such groups, since these countries typically face multiple armed opposition groups. There are also various levels of indifference and tolerance that lie in between total belligerence and total cooperation. Tankel points out, logically, that longstanding bilateral alliances, in which two states share a history of cooperation, can ease the path of partnership. But there are limits to such familiarity. He notes that Saudi Arabia, certainly a long-time U.S. ally, in the end resists doing much about the doctrine of Wahhabism, which bolsters jihadism worldwide but remains the source of the regime’s legitimacy. Tankel also finds that tactical military cooperation (e.g., providing intelligence) is easier than initiatives of larger scale or that have more of an impact on domestic politics in the host country, such as CVE or, in particular, the acutely sensitive subject of security sector reform. The Future for U.S. Partnerships Is not so Bright The overall conclusions of this book are not optimistic, which is unsurprising. Tankel finds that “absent catalytic events, efforts to change partners’ threat perception have not met with much success.”[19] Providing security assistance to partners is highly problematic, and it is hard to see how to fix the problem. Any solution depends on tackling such confounding issues as poor governance and corruption, problems that are deeply rooted in the countries in question. Effective counterterrorism goes beyond building state capacity to encouraging the sorts of political solutions that have so far taken the back seat to military ones. Tankel argues that military capacity-building efforts have emphasized tactics over the basic reform of the partner’s institutional security apparatus. Military planners (who are at the forefront of partner relations) must find it frustrating and unrewarding to tackle endemic, intertwined problems of graft and corruption, lack of motivation, poor training, and weak leadership. Kinetic efforts are much more glamorous, producing visible results in the short term, even if the long-term effect is, at best, inconclusive, and at worst, harmful. As Tankel notes, U.S. partners abroad sometimes act as enablers in this respect. They provide tactical cooperation such as access to territory, intelligence information, and detention and rendition of suspects, in order to avoid more onerous, demanding, and costly forms of cooperation, especially those that would jeopardize the hold on power of local elites. Adding further to the problem is the fact that the United States has not excelled at assessing the cost or the pay-off of counterterrorism efforts. Here, there is obvious room for improvement, at least incrementally. For starters, the United States could better monitor security assistance. Tankel includes in a footnote in With Us and Against Us the telling observation that the United States cannot even track the money it is spending on security assistance.[20] Similarly, America’s CVE efforts in Pakistan were hampered by a lack of knowledge about the sources of the problem. Despite the encouraging observation that these efforts became more informed over time, indicating that governments can learn, there was still a “lack of metrics.”[21] Tankel was unable to figure out how much American assistance was devoted to CVE because the different agencies involved characterized it differently.[22] The Stimson Center in Washington recently released an impressive, although admittedly imprecise, report on the overall cost of U.S. counterterrorism activities, including overseas assistance as well as homeland security, which estimated a total of $2.8 trillion spent during fiscal years 2002 through 2017.[23] The report cited lack of transparency, inconsistent criteria for what counts as counterterrorism, and incomplete data as the basis for its conclusion that it is impossible to assess whether or not money is being spent to counter the most important threats or how efficacious such spending is overall. The war on terrorism has become so diffuse and open-ended that it is impossible to track accurately. While Tankel’s book focuses primarily on exposing the inconsistences of America’s partners, the U.S. government can also be erratic. Even under the same administration in Washington, different agencies can have different threat perceptions, in addition to all the other divisions that foster compartmentalization and bureaucratic rivalry.[24] The United States is also likely to switch enemy priorities: The adversary in Syria, for example, was Assad — until it was ISIS.[25] Tankel does acknowledge such American inconsistencies, but it is likely that they affect U.S. partners’ perceptions more than most American policymakers realize. It would be very enlightening to have a glimpse at that perspective to see how those partners view America’s role in counterterrorism cooperation. Although Tankel does not stress this point, he does allude to some disastrous American policy mistakes, including the “difficult to overstate corrosive effect” of the invasion of Iraq, and the “enduring stain” of Guantanamo. But it was not just these tragic blunders that disrupted chains of events and patterns of partnership. It was the way that decisions, which perhaps seemed inconsequential or even helpful at the time, in the end had unexpected consequences in the region. Adapting to these faulty decisions and sometimes shocking consequences is made all the more difficult if allied relationships are not robust and if local partner elites are divided and insecure. One example of this is the Obama administration being blindsided by the Arab Spring and by the civil war in Syria, setting the stage for the breakdown of Yemen. The behavior of America’s partners there — the regimes of Ali Abdullah Saleh and Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, as well as Saudi Arabia — was, at best, unreliable and opportunistic, and at worst, destructive, causing even more problems. Counterterrorism efforts in Yemen that were focused on AQAP eventually morphed into supporting the Saudi campaign against the Houthi rebels. Another example is Libya, where the overthrow of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi led to an unexpected descent into chaos that disrupted the entirety of North Africa and the Sahel region (in addition to causing the death of the American ambassador to Libya).[26] Both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara now have operational bases there, which has, in turn, led to American drone strikes. Yet another example in the region is Mali, which was so caught off guard and threatened by the movement of AQIM into the north of the country, due to the Algerian state’s victory in the Algeria civil war that began in the 1990s, that France was invited to intervene. Now, the region is in turmoil, and the United States is establishing an armed drone base in Niger. In effect, Algeria, a U.S. ally, was so effective in defeating what was largely a local jihadist movement that it pushed the local organizers to ally with al-Qaeda in 2006. AQIM’s southern branch then spilled over into partner Mali, undermining Mali’s own security and territorial integrity as well as regional stability more broadly. The chaos in Libya only made the conflict worse by providing ungoverned spaces as well as an abundant supply of arms. Tankel’s study reinforces the findings of other scholars who have similarly stressed misaligned preferences as the cause of difficulties in patron-client relationships. Their research expands the analysis beyond counterterrorism to other areas, counterinsurgency in particular, and highlights different state partners.[27] These scholars are equally pessimistic about what can be achieved through these types of U.S. partnerships. In documenting the obstacles to effective security assistance, they find that, in order to work, it requires levels of intrusiveness and conditionality that might not be practical or desirable. The bottom line is that differences between patron-client preferences require the patron, in this case the United States, to drive a hard bargain to get any sort of compliance or cooperation. The January 2018 suspension of State and Defense Department security assistance to Pakistan, in the hopes of compelling stronger action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, might be an instance of such a hard bargain, but its effectiveness is doubtful.[28] Paul Kapur has argued convincingly that Pakistan is irreversibly committed to the idea that supporting jihadist groups, as well as the Taliban, is essential to its regional security. It regards India as a much greater threat than domestic extremism, and it will not abandon the relationship with its jihadist clients, despite the disastrous consequences that Kapur predicts.[29] What’s more, a Brookings report by Vanda Felbab-Brown points out that the United States decreased its military aid to Pakistan by 60 percent between 2010 and 2017 without any discernible impact on Pakistani behavior.[30] It is understandable that U.S. military leaders might not completely grasp the complexities and ambiguities that Tankel describes, especially when they are dealing with newer counterterrorism partners. Transparency is not, after all, a strong point in these regimes. Tankel is certainly right to say that it is critical for the United States to understand its partners’ calculations. But is it realistic to expect this level of insight or to expect mutual comprehension? Reading this book would be a good start, but distrust and suspicion of duplicity and manipulation are likely to remain. There’s More to Learn About U.S. Partnerships Tankel’s analysis raises questions that merit further consideration and research. The argument proposed in his book could be extended to partners who are engaged in active combat against jihadists, such as the Philippines, which is a U.S. treaty ally that has had close military cooperation with America over the years. Niger also comes to mind, since American soldiers have been killed in military operations against the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and, as noted above, the United States is expanding its commitment there by building a new base for armed drones. Another potential point of comparison to explore is between state and non-state partners, such as the Kurds. A further question to explore is how different is the problem of combatting terrorism from other security areas in which the United States similarly needs the help of sometimes dubious or less than willing/capable partners, and wants its partners to be the “tip of the spear.” For example, would it be instructive to examine U.S. cooperation with partners like Mexico in combating transnational drug dealing and organized crime? Jihadist violence may be fundamentally different because the actors behind it are what Tanisha Fazal describes as “religionist rebels” whose intransigence distinguishes them from other regime opponents.[31] However, there might still be lessons to be learned by applying Tankel’s analysis to these non-terrorism security areas. Tankel finds that, as time passed after 9/11, the United States reduced its reliance on unreliable partners. It would be worthwhile to know more about how this withdrawal was possible and what was the alternative to that reliance. Is it easy to switch partners? What happens if the United States abandons a partner? Can partner reliability be predicted? It would not seem so, but there are surely some identifiable characteristics of partners that could be known in advance, beyond their past performance as an ally. Perhaps there is a correlation between U.S. uncertainty about the gravity of a given threat and U.S. willingness to press partners in the sensitive areas of security sector reform and civilian institution-building, both of which appear central to effective counterterrorism as well as counterinsurgency. When the United States perceives a threat as acute, local partners are able to play the weak ally card, as South Vietnam did and as Pakistan still does. The United States is probably more willing to impose the conditionality recommended by Tankel and others when American policymakers are less impatient and less eager to see immediate results. But then again, paradoxically, uncertainty about the jihadist threat in Mali did not stop the United States from escalating involvement in the Sahel region. In the end, it seems unlikely that the problems with partners that this book identifies can be solved without a better defined and better articulated national counterterrorism policy. The current anti-jihadist strategy is essentially a mix of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies. Partners are asked to counter jihadist insurgencies and terrorism not just to help themselves but to help the United States defend its interests against transnational terrorism and cascading instability as the number of civil wars involving jihadist movements steadily increases. Furthermore, the various elements of counterterrorism policy are not well integrated. How can military operations, whether unilaterally conducted by the partner or in cooperation with the United States or regional allies, be compatible with countering violent extremism and undermining the jihadist claim that the West is at war with Islam? It is also hard to reconcile Washington’s opposition to “nation-building” with providing effective security assistance to these weak partners. Jihadists take advantage of and exploit civil conflicts stemming from local grievances that U.S. partners have not been able or willing to deal with. Military cooperation will not resolve those grievances, although it could buy time for solutions to be pursued. Tankel is right to emphasize that, ultimately, the problem is more political than military. Martha Crenshaw is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies’ Center for International Security and Cooperation and Professor of Political Science, by courtesy, at Stanford University. She is the co-author, with Gary LaFree, of Countering Terrorism (Brookings Institution Press, 2017).    

4. America and Its Counterterrorism Partners: A Principal-Agent Relationship

By Jacob N. Shapiro Stephen Tankel’s new book, With Us and Against Us: How America's Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, marks a significant contribution toward understanding why states do (or do not) cooperate with major powers to fight terrorist groups.[32] The book addresses a basic puzzle: What accounts for the great variation over time and across groups in how hard key states have worked to cooperate with America’s counterterrorism efforts? Pakistan, for example, worked reasonably well with the United States to capture and kill al-Qaeda operatives from 2002 to 2005 (with important exceptions), generally allowed a range of militants to operate with near impunity from 2006 to 2008, and then provided tacit support to the massively ramped up U.S. drone campaign in some regions of the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier from 2009 to 2011. Pakistan has also had the habit of targeting some groups while leaving others untouched at the same point in time. Tankel’s book reveals that this kind of variation is not unusual. In his chapters on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mali, and Egypt/Algeria, Tankel lays out the competing strategic incentives that influence the United States’ putative allies in the “War on Terror.” Each chapter walks through the history of how the country in question has cooperated with U.S. counterterrorism efforts over the years, as well as how it has worked at cross purposes to U.S. goals. What becomes clear as the book progresses is that there is tremendous variation in the extent of cooperation with U.S. efforts. Understanding the cause of that variation is critical in several respects, most importantly because policies that assume unconditional cooperation are clearly misguided and doomed for failure. But more subtly, having a clear sense of the conditions that hinder cooperation can help policymakers identify ways to set the stage for our allies to do more. To analyze patterns of cooperation in each country, Tankel employs a pair of two-dimensional graphs that illustrate a) the extent to which the United States and its ally share the same threat perception of different terrorist groups and b) the extent to which a terrorist group is either useful or poses a threat to the U.S. ally in question. By placing specific groups on these two graphs, Tankel concisely highlights whether the United States and its ally would be conflicted about cracking down on a given group. Tankel argues that when the United States and its ally disagree about the threat-level and when a group has some utility to the ally — situating it in the lower right quadrant of each graph — then one should expect to see shoddy cooperation or outright subversion of U.S. interests on the part of the ally. This is a clean argument that helps make sense of a great deal of variation within each individual case — e.g., Pakistan cooperating with the United States against some Islamist militants while supporting groups with superficially similar ideologies — and the evidence laid out is persuasive. The case studies provide tight chronological narratives for each country and bring together a range of events that every scholar and policymaker working on the topic should know about. Overall, the book highlights the inherent limits on cooperation between states in counterterrorism efforts and should encourage caution among policymakers who have too-easily assumed that other states will follow U.S. priorities on counterterrorism because they are strong allies in some other area. Tankel’s key advice to the policy community is dead on:
It is critical to comprehend the security paradigm that drives a partner’s decision-making, how relations with the terrorists that are the target of cooperation fit into that paradigm, and how U.S. policies influence the political and security challenges the partner faces.
Great History, Wrong Framework The main weakness of the book is that, by framing the analysis in the literature on alliances,[33] Tankel situates his work in the wrong literature. As Tankel himself points out, the kind of cooperation the United States is seeking in its counterterrorism efforts is fundamentally different from the commitments sought in traditional interstate alliances. Moreover, the alliance literature that Tankel presents never deals explicitly with the complexities of politics within individual states, and so provides little guidance for thinking through how potential counterterrorism partners will behave. Although Tankel does not rely heavily on alliance theory in his analysis, there is nevertheless a missed opportunity here. Specifically, alliance theory, with its focus on structural conditions, provides little insight into the vexing question of how the United States and other great powers should work with allies in the counterterrorism fight. The issues Tankel studies would have been better understood through the lenses of agency theory and organizational economics. Because these approaches are focused tightly on how to configure relationships that can lead to cooperation between interdependent entities with partially aligned interests, they provide deeper insights into how to shape the strategic thinking of allies in counterterrorism than do the literatures on alliance behavior and coercion. In particular, principal-agent models highlight the challenge of sustaining cooperation when a) the principal has to delegate certain activities to an agent, e.g., running counter-radicalization programs; b) the agent’s preferences differ from those of the principal, e.g., it might disagree about which groups are truly “radical”; and c) the principal cannot credibly punish the agent for taking actions that are in its own interest instead of the principal’s. Threats to punish can fail because the principal cannot be sure whether the agent has taken advantage of the principal’s discretion (say by not working as hard as the principal would like) or because the threat of punishment is not one the principal is likely to carry out when the time comes. From the perspective of organizational economics, the United States is clearly engaged in a principal-agent relationship with its counterterrorism partners. The United States, the principal, seeks to delegate various counterterrorism activities (collecting intelligence, protecting U.S. sites, running de-radicalization programs, etc.) to another state, its agent. That state, however, can take actions that are not in U.S. interests and the United States has only imperfect tools to compel cooperation. That is both because it is hard to measure counterterrorism efforts (because many are necessarily covert) and thus difficult to know how hard an ally is working, and also because the agents are balancing multiple priorities and know that the United States will not completely cut them off even if they misbehave. Take Pakistan, for example: United States policymakers wished to punish Pakistan for its support of the Haqqani network at points, but were constrained by their reliance on Pakistan for cooperation against al-Qaeda and for transshipment of supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, making a complete breach in relations over counterterrorism issues unthinkable. Two books — one that was recently published and one that is forthcoming — that address the challenges of working with allies to achieve counterinsurgency goals from a principal-agent perspective can help foster a better understanding of the rich case histories that Tankel presents. Walter C. Ladwig III’s, The Forgotten Front: Patron Client Relations in Counterinsurgency,[34] applies agency theory to understand why the United States had such difficulties achieving its strategic goals in the Philippines after World War II, Vietnam from 1957 to 1963, and El Salvador from 1979 to 1992. He begins the book by pointing out that, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, military action by outside powers created moments of political opportunity that were not capitalized upon by local governments. Ladwig then pivots to outline in rich detail the many problems agency theory predicts states should have in managing what he terms “patron-client relationships.” Ladwig argues that structural factors in the international system do a poor job of explaining the variance in the extent to which principals in counterinsurgency efforts (essentially great power patrons) can shape their agents’ actions. Put more provocatively, the kinds of variables that play a major role in theories of alliance behavior and interstate coercion have little explanatory value when trying to understand cooperation in counterinsurgency. It is easy to argue that the same is true with respect to understanding cooperation in counterterrorism, and it would seem Tankel agrees, given that his analysis makes little use of alliance theory after the introductory setup. Ladwig demonstrates that moral hazard — a term of art for the problems that occur when an agent can take actions that increase its utility at the expense of the principal — loomed large in each of his three examples because it was usually hard for the U.S. government to monitor what its agents were doing and to credibly threaten punishment for any identified transgressions. Sometimes that difficulty arose from the lack of credible options outside of the local partner, as when the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam was quoted as arguing, “We would assist a Communist takeover by withholding our aid, even if it must necessarily be given to a government which is less than perfect,”[35] and sometimes it stemmed from the unwillingness of leaders in the United States to publicly acknowledge their allies’ shortcomings in the context of zero-sum Cold War competition. Many of the themes in Ladwig’s volume are deepened and extended in the forthcoming Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence through Local Agents, edited by Eli Berman and David Lake.[36] The authors of this volume argue that “Working through local proxies has always been a central tool of foreign policy,” and therefore, “Understanding indirect control, how to motivate local leaders to act in sometimes costly ways — and when and how it succeeds — is essential to effective foreign policy in today’s world; especially for managing violence and illicit activities by non-state actors operating from the territory of other states.” This insight is driven by years spent talking with U.S. policymakers as they struggle to “do more with less” and “work by, with, and through” local allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. To help build a richer understanding of indirect control Berman and Lake take a novel approach, working with game theorists Gerard Padró i Miquel and Pierre Yared to lay down a logically coherent and mathematically-derived account of the principal-agent dynamics involved in indirect control. Eight other authors in this edited volume then apply that theoretical framework to nine proxy relationships, including the United States and South Korea, Nazi Germany and Denmark, and Israel and Hamas, among others, examining a different outcome and different set of principal-agent challenges in each case. The book’s essential argument is that the great power principal can choose different methods for addressing what Berman and Lake generically term “a disturbance,” which can include terrorism emanating from poorly governed spaces, as in parts of Pakistan, or drug production in remote areas, as in regions of Colombia. At one extreme, the principal can engage in direct action (e.g., military strikes) or it can disengage and accept ongoing disturbances. The principal can also attempt a strategy of indirect control in which it either a) promises rewards and punishments to the proxy to induce the proxy to suppress the disturbance,[37] or b) enhances the capacity of the proxy to manage the disturbance, for example, by providing security force assistance.[38] The optimal mix of carrots, sticks, and supplements depends on how tightly aligned the principal’s interests are with those of the agent, echoing Tankel’s discussion of shared agreement on the severity of the threat and the extent to which the agent sees strategic value in the group producing the disturbance. Situations that Tankel classified as having high U.S. threat perceptions, low ally threat perceptions, and high ally utility for the terrorist group, are those that Berman and Lake would describe as having poor preference alignment between principal and agent. Cooperation is not impossible in such settings according to their argument, but securing it requires the principal to create strong incentives for the agent to comply with its demands. And it is in thinking about how to create such incentives, that the agency theory approach pays greatest dividends. In Berman and Lake’s formulation, interests can diverge when disturbances are more costly for the principal than the agent, when the proxy simply has higher priorities, or when reducing the disturbance is politically costly for the agent (as going after the Pakistan Taliban in the wake of the Abbottabad raid would have been for the Pakistani government, for example). When interests diverge a great deal, the principal will have to provide large rewards or significant punishments to make the agent comply. Simply providing capacity, however, will not help. Weapons and training can be diverted to address problems other than the disturbance the principal cares about (in the case Tankel studies, military aid provided to enhance Pakistan’s ability to fight local insurgents was spent bolstering the country’s defense against India). When interests diverge modestly, then, the great power can tailor punishments and rewards to get its proxy to deal with the threat to some extent, but capacity building will largely be a wasted investment. This prediction is consistent with the poor results of U.S. security force assistance in Iraq. It is only when interests are closely aligned that unconditional capacity building will work, or so Berman, Lake, and the other contributors to this volume argue. In practical terms, their argument implies that increased aid, military training, and other forms of assistance should be used sparingly and only in cases such as postwar Europe, where the United States and (most of) its allies agreed on the nature of the Soviet threat. This perspective finds much support in the examples discussed in Proxy Wars, though there are exceptions. Overall, the authors find that great powers have been overly sanguine about the potential for capacity building to help proxies manage disturbances and that explicit rewards and punishments are not used as often as one would think, despite their record of success. Stephen Biddle’s closing chapter draws on that observation to identify key policy lessons, many of which mirror suggestions made by both Tankel and Ladwig, regarding the need for being realistic about the incentives facing state partners. Not surprisingly, Berman and Lake’s theoretical arguments are fully supported by the facts presented in Tankel’s careful dissection of the U.S.-Pakistan proxy relationship. Capacity building for purposes of counterterrorism largely did not work. Meanwhile, without credible punishments, Pakistan routinely invested less than the United States would have liked in containing threats emanating from its territory and redirected military aid to its own purposes. And during periods when working with the United States was more politically costly for Pakistani politicians and military leaders, levels of cooperation went down across the board. What the agency theory approach brings to the table is a clear-eyed view of what would be required to gain that cooperation: a way to credibly threaten to punish the Pakistani state when groups that it sees as valuable — e.g., the Haqqani network — create costs for the United States. Absent that, Pakistan is likely to remain a partial cooperator at best. Overall then, Tankel’s With Us and Against Us is a valuable and welcome contribution to the literature on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. The book provides an essential history of counterterrorism cooperation in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mali, Egypt, and Algeria. And it does more than any other book to illustrate how even the best allies can advance the United States’ goals against some groups while working against them with regards to others. In this respect, With Us and Against Us makes a unique contribution to the growing set of books highlighting just how limited cooperation often is in this domain. It should be required reading for anyone in the executive branch considering a counterterrorism strategy that relies on local cooperation and for anyone in the legislative branch considering funding such strategies.   Jacob N. Shapiro is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and directs the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project, a multi-university consortium that compiles and analyzes micro-level data and other information on politically motivated violence in countries around the world. He studies conflict, economic and political development, and security policy. He is author of The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations and co-author of Small Wars, Big Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict. His research has been published in a broad range of academic and policy journals as well as a number of edited volumes. He has conducted field research and large-scale policy evaluations in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, and Pakistan. [post_title] => Book Review Roundtable: America's Hot and Cold Relationship with Its Counterterrorism Partners [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-review-roundtable-americas-hot-and-cold-relationship-with-its-counterterrorism-partners [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-19 12:39:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-19 16:39:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=651 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Stephen Tankel's new book, With Us and Against Us, looks at the troubled relationship between America and its counterterrorism partners in the Middle East and North Africa. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Book [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 186 [1] => 187 [2] => 77 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Garrett Epps, “A Bill to Curtail the Forever War, or Extend It?” Atlantic, May 7, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/05/a-bill-to-stop-the-forever-war-or-extend-it/559769/. [2] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). [3] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 58. [4]  Paul Scharre, “Why Drones Are Still the Future of War,” Foreign Affairs, February 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-02-15/why-drones-are-still-future-war. [5] Recommendations and Report of the Task Force on US Drone Policy (Second Edition) (Washington, D.C.: Stimson Center, 2015), https://www.stimson.org/sites/default/files/file-attachments/recommendations_and_report_of_the_task_force_on_us_drone_policy_second_edition.pdf. [6] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 159. [7] For further reading on Pakistan’s history of cultivating non-state actors, as well as the history of its cooperation with the United States, see Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin Books, 2004); Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Vintage Books, 2006); Peter Bergen, Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: Free Press, 2001); and Stephen Tankel’s Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). [8] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 131. [9] Aamair Latif, “Pakistan Nuclear Body Staff Comes Under Suicide Attack,” Andalou Agency, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/pakistan-nuclear-body-staff-comes-under-suicide-attack/1134625; Gul Yousafzai, “Pakistani Army Kills Senior Militant, Seven Suicide Bombers,” U.S. News and World Report, May 17, 2018, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-05-17/pakistan-kills-senior-lashkar-e-jhangvi-militant-in-baluchistan-raid. [10] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 158 [11] Tankel, With Us and against Us, 158. [12] Lisa Ferdinando, “Pentagon Spokesman: U.S. Wants Pakistan to Take ‘Decisive Action’ Against Terrorism,” Department of Defense, Jan. 8, 2018, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1410401/pentagon-spokesman-us-wants-pakistan-to-take-decisive-action-against-terrorism/. Missy Ryan and Carol Morello, “Trump administration suspends most security aid to Pakistan,” Washington Post, Jan. 4, 2018; https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-administration-suspends-security-aid-to-pakistan/2018/01/04/303145e4-f18a-11e7-b3bf-ab90a706e175_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b4db88e61e92. [13] Robert Burns, “Amid little scrutiny, US military ramps up in Afghanistan,” Military Times, Mar. 10, 2018; https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/2018/03/10/amid-little-scrutiny-us-military-ramps-up-in-afghanistan/. [14] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). [15] Linda Robinson, “SOF’s Evolving Role: Warfare ‘By, With, and Through’ Local Forces,” Rand Blog/Cypher Brief, May 9, 2017, https://www.rand.org/blog/2017/05/sofs-evolving-role-warfare-by-with-and-through-local.html. [16] Nick Turse, “American Special Ops Forces Have Deployed to 70 Percent of the World’s Countries in 2017,” Nation, June 26, 2017, https://www.thenation.com/article/american-special-ops-forces-have-deployed-to-70-percent-of-the-worlds-countries-in-2017/. [17] Stephen Tankel has also written an excellent book on LeT, Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011). [18] See the useful website maintained by New America, Terrorism in America After 9/11, https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/terrorism-in-america/. [19] But if there are some even modest successes it would be good to know more about them. re trying to point out. nd effect aretthe mean and connect with the world and friends with developmental disabilities.evelopment [20] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 345. [21] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 161, 357. [22] Admittedly CVE remains a nebulous concept and practice, even within the United States. The core of the policy is countering violent ideologies, attitudes, and beliefs rather than degrading, defeating, or eradicating an enemy organization. [23] Stimson Study Group on Counterterrorism Spending, Protecting America While Promoting Efficiencies and Accountability (2018), https://www.stimson.org/content/counterterrorism-spending-protecting-america-while-promoting-efficiencies-and-accountability. See also “Counterterrorism: DOD Should Fully Address Security Assistance Planning Elements in Global Train and Equip Project Proposals,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 30, 2018, https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-449. [24] See the vivid accounts in Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York: Penguin Press, 2018). [25] Tankel says that a noteworthy effect of building an anti-ISIS coalition after 2014 was that it brought Muslim majority countries into the counterterrorism cooperation framework. Still, ISIS was less of a priority for Saudi Arabia than for the United States. In Yemen, the Houthi threat entirely dominates the security concerns of America’s erstwhile counterterrorism partner. [26] Christopher S. Chivvis and Andrew Liepman, North Africa’s Menace: AQIM’s Evolution and the U.S. Policy Response (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2013), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR415.html. [27] Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker, “Small footprint, small payoff: The military effectiveness of security force assistance,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 41, nos.1-2 (2018): 89–142; Barbara Elias, “The Big Problem of Small Allies: New Data and Theory on Defiant Local Counterinsurgency Partners in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Security Studies, 27, no. 2 (2018): 233–262; Walter C. Ladwig, The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); and Daniel Byman, “US counterterrorism intelligence cooperation with the developing world and its limits,” Intelligence and National Security 32, no. 2 (2017): 145–60. [28] Mark Landler and Gardiner Harris, “Trump, Citing Pakistan as a ‘Safe Haven’ for Terrorists, Freezes Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/04/us/politics/trump-pakistan-aid.html. [29] Paul Kapur, Jihad as Grand Strategy: Islamist Militancy, National Security, and the Pakistani State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). [30] Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Why Pakistan supports terrorist groups, and why the US finds it so hard to induce change,” Brookings Institution, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/01/05/why-pakistan-supports-terrorist-groups-and-why-the-us-finds-it-so-hard-to-induce-change/. [31] Tanisha M. Fazal, “Religionist Rebels & the Sovereignty of the Divine,” Daedalus 147, no. 1 (2018): 25–35. [32] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America's Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). [33] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 49–54. [34] Walter C. Ladwig III, The Forgotten Front: Patron Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge University Press, 2017). For an outstanding review of Ladwig’s book see Will Selber’s excellent piece at War on the Rocks: Will Selber, “Hope and Hype: Advising Foreign Forces in the Middle of a Counterinsurgency Campaign,” War on the Rocks, Aug. 17, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/08/hope-and-hype-advising-foreign-forces-in-the-middle-of-a-counterinsurgency-campaign/. [35] Ladwig, The Forgotten Front, 71–72. [36] Eli Berman and David Lake, Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence through Local Agents (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming). Full disclosure, I am a co-PI on the grant that funded the book, but did not participate in writing it. [37] Along the lines of the contract that Ladwig advises establishing at the start of a principal-agent relationship for counterinsurgency purposes. [38] Interestingly, both methods have been used over the years as the United States tries to manage its counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan and, as Tankel shows, have had uneven success. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => 1. Introduction: A Timely Assessment of U.S. Counterterrorism Partnerships, by Derek Chollet 2. The Imperfect Truth Behind Counterterrorism Partnerships: Reality Bites, Christine Abizaid 3. Counterterrorism Partnerships: A Two-Way Street, by Martha Crenshaw 4. America and Its Counterterrorism Partners: A Principal-Agent Relationship, by Jacob N. Shapiro ) ) ) [post_count] => 2 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 716 [post_author] => 202 [post_date] => 2018-09-11 10:38:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-11 14:38:39 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: A Most Infamous Day: Marking the 17th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

By Ryan Evans The 9/11 attacks and Pearl Harbor have often been compared. Not long after the towers fell, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, a future secretary of defense, said, “This is the second Pearl Harbor. I don't think that I overstate it.”[1] A senior E.U. official said that same day, “It is the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor. This is one of those few days in life that one can say will actually change everything.” Around the world and especially in the United States, these comparisons are being repeated today. But marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is fundamentally unlike observing that of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” Less than four years after Japanese imperialist forces struck at America’s Pacific Fleet as it sat in Pearl Harbor, Japan surrendered unconditionally, submitting itself to a military occupation by its adversary. Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks, however, the kindest thing that can be said of the American record against the jihadist movement is that it is mixed. While the United States has succeeded in preventing another mass casualty attack on its soil, its terrorist enemies continue to wreak havoc in Africa, the Middle East, as well as South and Southeast Asia, and have repeatedly attacked Europe. Sept. 11 is a day that, like Dec. 7, lives in infamy, but it is an infamy that today is largely defined by America’s strategic incompetence and confusion, which have played no small role in transforming a vicious tragedy into an expensive — and often fruitless — geopolitical preoccupation that has seen the United States and its allies pay dearly with both blood and treasure without making the world any safer. With the benefit of 17 years of hindsight, one would be hard pressed to imagine a worse way to have honored and avenged the lives of the 3,000 people who perished on this day in 2001. To understand what has gone both right and wrong, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy. The Contributions Without the durable alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the attacks might not have taken place and the last 17 years surely would have played out quite differently. Tricia Bacon of American University helps us understand this remarkable alliance and why it has proven so resilient in the face of an all-out assault by some of the world’s most advanced military powers. As Bacon observes, there is a considerable asymmetry in this relationship. For the Taliban, there have been great costs and marginal benefits. For al-Qaeda, great benefits and marginal costs. This case is perhaps the foremost example of America’s “larger failure to prevent or disrupt alliances between militant groups.” These jihadist alignments, however, are often not as stable as the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which has posed other problems for America’s global counter-terrorism campaign. Focusing on Syria and the Sahel, Martha Crenshaw of Stanford University assesses the regularly shifting, and often “bewildering,” ties between various militant groups arrayed against the West. As she explains, “These complicated and often obscure interactions among jihadist militants make it hard for governments or international institutions to understand the adversary or predict what will happen.” Even after suffering undeniable military defeats, these groups are able to reconstitute themselves elsewhere with remarkable consistency, calling into question the sustained special operations missions and interventions meant to crush them. America, of course, is not fighting jihadist groups alone. Cooperation and coordination with the governments of Muslim-majority states has been a critical, yet frustrating, part of the war on terrorism. Drawing on his recent book, Stephen Tankel of American University explains how these partners “both help and hinder U.S. counterterrorism efforts.”[2] Even when Washington and a partner state find their interests closely aligned and see a jihadist group as a foe that must be fiercely fought, many Americans find themselves troubled by often repressive methods employed by the partner. And often, America has different priorities than a partner state, either because the local authorities see a jihadist group as useful or simply because they don’t see defeating it as especially important compared to other goals. It is undeniable that there have been some major successes in the global war on terrorism. Speaking as an intelligence professional, Michael Dempsey — formerly the acting director of national intelligence, the deputy director of national intelligence, and President Barack Obama’s primary intelligence briefer — walks us through these victories as well as some notable failures. The U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have protected the homeland from another mass casualty plot and U.S. military forces, with the support of coalition partners, have more recently regained the battlefield initiative against jihadists in the Middle East. At the same time, however, jihadist groups remain adaptive, the socio-political drivers that sustain their ranks are unresolved, and Washington is prone to “unforced errors” that, in the end, are gifts to America’s enemies. How have American thinking and counter-terrorism efforts evolved in the last 17 years? David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside, all of the U.S. Naval War College, join forces to answer this question and others in a wide-ranging and creative article that draws on everything from the great naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan to Burmese pythons on the loose in Florida to Washington’s alleged reorientation toward great-power competition. “Much like the futility of trying to stop the growth of the python population,” they write, “our failure to reduce the scale of global jihadism is more obvious than ever.” Brown, Hoyt, and Whiteside call for a “shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict,” but are decidedly skeptical of Washington’s ability to get there. This roundtable ends where it all began: Afghanistan. Trevor Thrall of George Mason University and Erik Goepner of the Cato Institute examine how the “safe haven fallacy” has sustained poor decision-making on Afghanistan across three presidencies. Thrall and Goepner disassemble the assumptions of the safe haven fallacy — describing it as “an argument for endless war based on unwarranted worst-case scenario assumptions” — and call for Washington to finally end its involvement in the conflict. The Trump administration, they correctly argue, are guilty of relying on shoddy logic if its officials truly believe that with far fewer troops on the ground they can get any closer to something resembling victory than previous administrations have. “Nothing the United States is doing,” they write, “will encourage the Taliban to change its course, regardless of how much resolve Trump and his generals have.” Ryan Evans is the publisher of the Texas National Security Review and the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.  

2. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: The Alliance that Started the Forever War

By Tricia Bacon Today marks 17 years since 9/11 and nearly the same since America’s war in Afghanistan started. Launched on October 7, 2001, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan quickly overthrew the Taliban regime after their leader, Mullah Omar, refused to hand over Osama bin Laden.[3] While America’s strategic objective in Afghanistan has often been unclear,[4] the Taliban’s refusal to give up al-Qaeda — and by extension the fear that an Afghanistan dominated by the Taliban would remain a safe haven for international terrorists[5] — has been one of the primary motives for the “forever war.”[6] The alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has endured for over 20 years. Between a crushing military campaign by the world’s foremost military alliance and the realpolitik considerations that seemingly should have led the Taliban to break ties long ago, the fact that they haven’t is remarkable. As in other alliances,[7] the two groups remain engaged in cooperation with mutual expectations about consultation and cooperation in the future. An alliance does not mean that partners have merged, operate in lockstep, or even always adhere to one another’s input. In this case, they certainly have not, do not, and they sometimes ignore one another’s counsel.[8] Allies can have areas of major divergence. And the Taliban and al-Qaeda certainly do. Since the inception of their relationship, the two groups have differed on their strategic objectives, priorities, and tactics. The Taliban continues to be staunchly focused on Afghanistan and has never embraced al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ambitions. For its part, al-Qaeda has consistently pursued its agenda with a disregard for how doing so has affected the Taliban. Yet they cooperate in Afghanistan and expect future cooperation and consultation in that realm. They share a desire to expel U.S. forces from Afghanistan and re-instate Taliban rule. And they now have a mutual rival in the Islamic State. But even these common interests do not fully capture what binds these two groups into their long-standing, but difficult, partnership. Their relationship has evolved over time. Though Bin Laden had pledged bayat to Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda was “an organization supporting a state” during the 1990s.[9] Now the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda nor does it need al-Qaeda’s support for its insurgency. Al-Qaeda gains more from the relationship, not least of all a role in the insurgency in Afghanistan and an alternative to the Islamic State that it can promote to discredit its former ally.[10] Al-Qaeda also gets the prospect of a future safe haven should the Taliban return to power, though the Taliban’s willingness to provide such sanctuary is uncertain.[11] The alliance has proven resilient and thus poses a hurdle to efforts to find a negotiated settlement to end the war.[12] Heavy Costs for Limited Benefits for the Taliban The Taliban has incurred tremendous costs for its alliance with al-Qaeda over more than two decades. The relationship contributed to the Taliban’s international isolation while it was in power, including a rupture with Saudi Arabia: one of only three states to recognize the Taliban government.[13] Al-Qaeda’s presence was a source of internal strife within the Taliban,[14] with some urging Mullah Omar to oust the group.[15] Some in the Taliban were particularly frustrated by Bin Laden’s declarations of war and al-Qaeda’s acts of terrorism against the United States in the years prior to 2001.[16] But Washington’s responses actually increased the Taliban’s support for al-Qaeda.[17] Of course, most notably, Mullah Omar’s refusal to handover Bin Laden after 9/11 led to the United States’ invasion and the downfall of the Taliban regime. The persistence of their alliance is all the more remarkable when you consider how little the Taliban needs al-Qaeda now. However, it does accrue some benefits. Though al-Qaeda was the cause of the U.S. invasion,[18] it has steadfastly supported the Taliban’s insurgency. The Taliban has benefited from al-Qaeda’s expertise since the onset of the conflict,[19] as it did against the Northern Alliance during the 1990s.[20] Al-Qaeda helped train local Taliban commanders to fabricate improvised explosives beginning in the early days of the insurgency.[21] The terrorist group’s personnel also offer other specialized and technological skills,[22] leading one leading scholar on Afghanistan to refer to al-Qaeda operators as “subcontractors” for the Taliban.[23] Al-Qaeda has assisted the Taliban with special operations and terrorist attacks, offering experienced supplemental manpower.[24] The jihadist group rarely conducts or claims attacks in Afghanistan independently; instead it contributes to attacks by the Taliban and its partner then decides how to claim responsibility. But, by al-Qaeda’s own admission, “the Taliban almost does not need us.”[25] The Taliban’s greatest strength is its ability to capitalize on widespread local grievances and the Afghan government’s lack of legitimacy. It has ample Afghan personnel, and it controls or contests at least 44 percent of Afghanistan’s districts.[26] Even those estimates vastly understate the Taliban’s influence.[27] In addition, at times, especially during the 1990s, the Taliban needed funds from al-Qaeda.[28] That is no longer the case. The Taliban’s coffers are well-stocked through its relations with various patrons, including Pakistan,[29] Iran, and Russia,[30] as well as through its involvement in the drug trade in Afghanistan.[31] It also garners funds locally from extortion and protection rackets.[32] Furthermore, it enjoys substantial support from donor networks in the Gulf.[33] Thus, to the extent that al-Qaeda provides the Taliban with resources, they are not pivotal to the Taliban’s financial health. While al-Qaeda and the Taliban share antipathy towards the Islamic State, there are no indications that the Taliban has needed al-Qaeda’s assistance in forcibly challenging the Islamic State’s local affiliate, the Islamic State in the Khorasan.[34] Nonetheless, some in the Taliban still have a soft spot for al-Qaeda. As recently as 2015, al-Qaeda operated a massive training facility in Kandahar until it was destroyed by the United States.[35] Whether the facility was an anomaly or an indication that the Taliban remains willing to offer al-Qaeda operating space in its territory remains unclear. In addition, the Haqqani Network faction of the Taliban has long been close to al-Qaeda.[36] They have conducted joint operations and al-Qaeda has benefited from Haqqani protection. The Haqqanis’ support for al-Qaida is more important than ever since the faction’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, ascended to the number two spot in the Taliban in 2015. Mostly Benefits with Few Costs for al-Qaeda Through its alliance with the Taliban, al-Qaeda participates in the insurgency in Afghanistan, thereby maintaining a foothold in a campaign against the United States with symbolic importance in the broader global jihadist movement as the site of the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989. But, as discussed, its involvement is selective, and the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda, which limits its losses and the resources it must invest in the effort. This arrangement works well for al-Qaeda because the insurgency in Afghanistan is not its top priority. In recent years, some of its skilled military and explosives experts have even left Afghanistan for Syria.[37] By Ayman al-Zawahiri’s own admission, Afghanistan is on the periphery of the larger battle in which Iraq and Syria command more importance.[38] Since the Islamic State’s emergence, al-Qaeda has garnered additional benefits from its alliance with the Taliban. Al-Qaeda sought to discredit the Islamic State’s claims to have formed a caliphate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph. It did so by touting the Taliban’s leader as the “true” leader of the faithful.[39] This effort initially backfired in the wake of humiliating revelations in 2015 that Mullah Omar had died in 2013.[40] Nonetheless, al-Qaeda stuck with the approach, hailing the Taliban as the only theologically legitimate alternative to the Islamic State.[41] Prospects Going Forward The alliance between these two movements has long defied the apparent cost-benefit calculation, suggesting that their ties run deeper,[42] especially after 17 years of fighting together. Their bond was once attributed primarily to the personal relationship between Mullah Omar and Bin Laden.[43] Thus, Bin Laden’s death in 2011 and the revelation of Mullah Omar’s 2013 death seemed to be as an opening for the Taliban to break with al-Qaeda.[44] Once again, in defiance of predictions, the alliance persisted. However, Zawahiri does not enjoy the same standing as Bin Laden with the Taliban or even among al-Qaeda’s other allies.[45] Mullah Omar’s successors have suffered from their own legitimacy shortfalls. Consequently, they have sought to navigate Zawahiri’s declarations of bayat carefully. Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour publicly accepted Zawahiri’s pledge,[46] only to subsequently remove the announcement from the Taliban’s website. The Taliban’s current leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has not publicly endorsed Zawahiri’s most recent pledge.[47] The Taliban has also undertaken some rhetorical maneuvers to distance itself from al-Qaeda publicly. Most notably, the Taliban’s current leader pledged that the group will not allow Afghanistan to be used for attacks on other countries.[48] While proponents of negotiations are encouraged by the move, al-Qaeda is probably relatively untroubled by such declarations. It does not and never has felt compelled to consult the Taliban about its operations outside of Afghanistan: It is beyond the scope of their alliance. Moreover, the Taliban’s rhetorical steps have been uneven and contradictory; it has also issued statements in recent years seemingly touting ties with al-Qaeda.[49] With the obvious exception of the rupture with the Islamic State, al-Qaeda’s other alliances have also proven resilient. Its affiliates remained loyal despite efforts by the Islamic State to entice them. Al-Qaeda has also sustained a web of relationships with other militant groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have allowed it to survive the past 17 years. Implications for Negotiations There is renewed hope for negotiations since President Donald Trump announced a willingness to engage in direct talks with the Taliban.[50] However, it is hard to imagine the United States being satisfied with a negotiated settlement that does not include the Taliban abdicating al-Qaeda. How much of a stumbling block does this pose? In my experience, officials working on Afghanistan tend to be more optimistic about the prospects of persuading the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda than those working on counter-terrorism. While the cost-benefit analysis offered above seemingly favors the interpretation of former, history is with the latter. Determining the Taliban’s view is difficult because proponents of negotiations within the Taliban are likely the same individuals who would like to break ties with al-Qaeda anyway, so their views on the topic may not represent important factions within the Taliban. Conversely, at least some of those within the Taliban who oppose negotiations would probably also reject renouncing al-Qaeda. In other words, Taliban leadership will have to strike a difficult, perhaps impossible, balance between these two positions.[51] At the same time, Taliban leaders have to be vigilant to avoid fragmentation: a major hurdle to serious negotiations and an eventual political settlement.[52] Though the Taliban has shown remarkable unity to date, Mullah Omar’s successors do not enjoy the same levels of loyalty and deference from Taliban members as he did. The Taliban lost power because its revered founding leader refused to relinquish al-Qaeda. While the insurgency in Afghanistan is certainly not about protecting al-Qaeda, reversing Mullah Omar’s 2001 positon will not be a small feat for any Taliban leader, especially one whose grasp on the various factions within the organization is not fully secure. One British official recently shared his view with me that the Taliban is holding on to severing ties with al-Qaeda as a bargaining chip, which it expects to exchange only for a major concession from the United States. If this is correct, the key question becomes: What is Washington is willing concede? Unfortunately, America’s inability to drive a wedge between al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not an anomaly. It is indicative of a larger failure to prevent or disrupt alliances between militant groups, despite the centrality of such relationships in the threat to the United States since 2001. In the case of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, this failure has been particularly costly. Tricia Bacon is an assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, fellow at Fordham University's Center for National Security, and non-resident fellow at George Washington’s Program on Extremism. She is the author of Why Terrorist Groups Form International Alliances (University of Pennsylvania, 2018). She was previously a counterterrorism analyst at the U.S. State Department from 2003 to 2013.  

3. The Long Aftermath of 9/11: How Terrorism Doesn’t End

By Martha Crenshaw When American leaders declared a global war on terror in 2001, they warned that victory was distant and elusive. But it is doubtful that any of them foresaw that 17 years later, American and allied troops would still be in Afghanistan facing a resurgent Taliban in the longest war in American history. Nor is it likely that they expected that American counterterrorism operations would be underway in 76 countries by 2017, or that through fiscal year 2018 the cost of the war on terror would be $5.6 trillion.[53] Certainly no one would have thought that in 2014 an “Islamic State” would conquer sizable territory in Syria and Iraq and institute a caliphate governed by its own intolerant version of Islamic law. Indeed, it is clear that jihadist terrorism is lasting much longer than previous waves or cycles of terrorism.[54] Although the 9/11 attacks precipitated the “Global War on Terror,” the jihadist trend had started long before. Its origins lie in the 1980s resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Abdullah Azzam’s famous appeal to Sunni Muslims worldwide to join in jihad to expel the infidel occupiers. The organization behind the 9/11 attacks and the original target of the war on terrorism was al-Qaeda. Legally, the justification for American military action in the war on terror is the threat from al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda is no longer the unitary actor it was on 9/11, and it also has a major challenger for overall jihadist primacy in its former partner, the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Each has affiliates and followers around the world.[55] The threat has thus been dispersed. There is no single monolithic jihadist adversary. Yet it is the fragmented and shifting character of jihadism that makes it so persistent and so hard to combat. Relationships among the different actors behind global jihadism are fluid and variable. These actors include a bewildering variety of individuals acting on inspiration, social networks, underground conspiracies, foreign fighters, civil war rebels, dissident splinter factions, franchise operations, loose inter-group alliances, and organizational mergers.[56] Their connections flow easily across national borders. Groups constantly align and realign themselves as friends or rivals as they change their strategic expectations about the future of the conflict in which they are involved. They are often embedded in local struggles and compete or cooperate with nationalists or separatists. Jihadists may be united in an overall belief that violence is both necessary and justified to bring about the liberation of Muslim lands from foreign oppression and restore a just order founded on original principles of Islam. But they are divided along lines of what is permissible in the struggle, the appropriate targets, the best tactics and timing, and where to fight. Is the most dangerous opponent the local government — the “near enemy” — or the United States and its Western allies — the “far enemy”? Is it permissible to target fellow Muslims, especially Sunnis? Should civilians be attacked? How important is unity among jihadist groups? These complicated and often obscure interactions among jihadist militants make it hard for governments or international institutions to understand the adversary or predict what will happen. Even with the best intelligence, governments operate under conditions of high uncertainty. Control of outcomes is impossible. Interventions to overthrow authoritarian governments, for example, result in the emergence of multiple contenders for power, among them diehard jihadists who are likely to gain ascendancy over other less experienced and less well-armed groups. The consequences of counterterrorist measures are often unexpected, unintended, and even counterproductive. Actions intended to defeat or undermine a single organization have “ricochet” effects on other groups, often upsetting the balance of power among them. Sometimes government repression stimulates cooperation that strengthens the jihadist movement. But governments most often seek to sow dissension in the ranks — causing splintering that leads to more violence and escalation of the conflict. Offers to negotiate might attract some relatively moderate groups but provoke the more extreme to heightened violence. Even if a group is defeated within the boundaries of one state, it may simply be displaced to a weaker neighbor, or the struggle can be globalized if losing civil war rebels turn to transnational terrorism. The United States, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in Syria There are numerous examples of how interactions among militant groups have impeded the effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts. Consider American policy toward al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Syria.[57] Al-Nusra was founded as an outpost of the Islamic State of Iraq, then nominally a branch of al-Qaeda central. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq recognized the Syrian civil war as a golden opportunity for jihadist expansion. Although the mainstream Syrian resistance to the Assad regime was ambivalent toward any group linked to al-Qaeda, its presence in the opposition in effect tainted the whole enterprise. At the least, it gave Assad and later his Russian patrons an excuse for condemning all opposition as jihadist extremism. At most, it was the decisive factor that ensured Western support to the rebels would be limited. When Assad responded to the initial popular uprisings with indiscriminate brutality, jihadists gained credibility. Their fighting prowess also helped. As the conflict intensified al-Nusra’s military contribution became increasingly important. Thus, when in December 2012 the United States declared al-Nusra a “foreign terrorist organization,” even committed secular nationalists came to its defense.[58] U.S. efforts to provide covert assistance exclusively to non-jihadist forces were frequently stymied or diverted due to lack of knowledge of what was going on and inability to monitor the activities of sponsored groups. Congress approved nonlethal assistance in 2013 and a Department of Defense train-and-equip mission for vetted Syrian opposition groups in 2014. The Pentagon’s effort was abandoned in 2015, and the CIA initiative was cancelled in the summer of 2017 after a cost of about $1 billion.[59] The programs suffered from diversions of supplies, defections, and deadly losses to al-Nusra attacks. Shortly after these aid programs got under way and al-Nusra was declared the enemy, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State parted ways, with al-Nusra remaining loyal to al-Qaeda. Over time American aid to its nationalist competitors probably made al-Nusra more extreme, but the Islamic State was much more ruthless and ambitious. It also exhibited remarkable military capability in seizing Fallujah and Ramadi in early 2014 and then Mosul in June. With this surprise victory, the Islamic State declared the establishment of a caliphate in the occupied parts of Syria and Iraq, thus becoming a global rival to al-Qaeda. The United States and its allies began airstrikes against the Islamic State, justifying them in terms of defending Iraq as requested.  An impressive “Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL” assembled. Shortly thereafter, the United States began airstrikes that reportedly hit al-Nusra bases in Idlib province, although the attacks were justified by reference to a mysterious Khorasan Group, described as an external operations branch of al-Qaeda engaged in planning attacks against the West and thus a direct threat to U.S. security.[60] The attacks may have weakened al-Nusra but they also apparently served to deepen loyalty among Syrian jihadists, including the Ahrar al-Sham group, an ally of Turkey as of 2015.[61] The offensive also deepened al-Nusra’s hostility toward the American-supported resistance (at the time the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds). Consequently, al-Nusra embarked on a military campaign against selected U.S.-backed groups, even those that had prudently restricted their attacks to the Islamic State.[62] Paradoxically, the fact that U.S. air strikes targeted al-Nusra generated resentment among the general body of Syrian resistance fighters. At the same time, predictably, the damage inflicted by U.S. strikes on Islamic State command and control systems advantaged its rivals, both Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra. The offensive against the Islamic State was also a boon to the regime and its allies. After Russia intervened in the fall of 2015, shifting patterns of military escalation and negotiation offers split the resistance and further divided Ahrar al-Sham from al-Nusra, which was excluded from the political process initiated late in 2016 with a ceasefire offer guaranteed by Russia and Turkey.[63] The United States did not participate directly in these initiatives, which were led by Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and Turkey, but it supported a negotiated solution to the conflict, preferably through U.N. sponsorship. For al-Nusra, its battlefield strength was no longer the strongest card on the table if negotiations and politics replaced fighting.[64] Organizational twists and turns followed. In July 2016, al-Nusra claimed to have repudiated its affiliation with al-Qaeda and renamed itself the Front for the Conquest of the Levant. In January 2017, it rebranded itself again as the Liberation of the Levant organization (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), proclaimed as an entirely new entity constituted by the merger of smaller groups and breakaway factions with the dominant al-Nusra. Soon it was engaged in a public dispute with al-Qaeda over the break, as Zawahiri criticized the former al-Nusra’s assumption that separating from al-Qaeda would reduce American pressure. Indeed, the United States continued to define the new rebranded Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as an al-Nusra alias and thus still a branch of al-Qaeda, although experts are divided as to whether the split is phony or genuine.[65] It is hard to escape the conclusion that American decision-makers failed to understand why al-Nusra was valuable to the non-jihadist resistance, how the group’s leaders might be ambivalent about the affiliation with al-Qaeda, or when tactical alliances could be sustained across ideological lines. At the same time, the Islamic State was steadily disintegrating under military assault in Iraq and Syria. By the fall of 2017 it had lost almost all the territory it once held, although it was still capable of mounting terrorist attacks within Syria, controlling a small pocket of territory, and maintaining an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq as well as external branches, such as those in North Africa, Egypt, and Afghanistan. An unknown number of the many foreign fighters recruited to ISIL also relocated outside Syria and Iraq. The decline of the Islamic State advantaged other Islamists such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/al-Nusra (now concentrated in Idlib province, the last holdout of the armed opposition to Assad) and Ahrar al-Sham (now part of a Turkish-organized coalition of resistance groups). The erosion of the Islamic State also served the interests of the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian supporters, and by early 2018 the United States had admitted that the government and its allies were winning. The Frustrations of Counterterrorism in North Africa and the Sahel Counterterrorism in Africa has proved frustrating for the United States as well as others concerned with regional stability, not only because of difficulties in dealing with partner governments but also because of the complexity and volatility of the jihadist universe. In August 2018, the U.S. military announced plans to draw down its forces in Africa, where special operations forces have been deployed to aid local governments in combatting jihadist terrorists and insurgents in order to prevent their becoming a direct threat to U.S security. According to The New York Times, roughly 1,200 U.S. special operations troops are on missions in Africa, out of 7,300 worldwide.[66] The initiative began at much lower levels when a Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership led by Washington was first established in 2005. The policy change followed the decision to focus on threats from states, rather than non-state terrorists. In announcing a new national security strategy in January 2018, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis explained “We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great-power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”[67]  The shift also came in the wake of a deadly attack by the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara on American forces in Niger in the fall of 2017. The history of jihadism in North Africa began well before 9/11. A network of Islamist and jihadist groups evolved from thwarted democratic participation and subsequent civil war in Algeria in the 1990s to cross-border expansion into the Sahel region, particularly into Mali.[68] The center is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which is loyal to al-Qaeda central. The much smaller Islamic State unit developed from a splinter of AQIM. Like al-Nusra in Syria, AQIM has rebranded itself as a more inclusive organization. Indeed, both groups appear to be trying to absorb themselves into larger more heterogeneous entities that are more acceptable to local populations. It is hard to know whether these structural adaptations are opportunistic attempts to disguise and conceal intentions and evade retaliation or whether they represent genuine ideological moderation and accommodation to circumstances. AQIM started as a local Algerian rebel organization, although it was tied to global jihadism through the participation of returned Afghan war veterans. Its primary aim was to overthrow the Algerian government.[69] In 2006, it formally signed on as an al-Qaeda franchise, owing in part to its defeat by the Algerian state through a combination of repression and “national reconciliation” initiatives. In addition, the 2003 American invasion of Iraq had inspired a new generation of volunteers for the jihadist cause. By 2011 a powerful AQIM faction in the south of Algeria, its aspirations blocked at home but enriched by lucrative smuggling and kidnapping operations, moved across the border into Mali and formed alliances with dissatisfied local separatists in the north.[70] It remains unclear as to whether the southern faction broke off from the parent organization or acted as a recalcitrant subordinate, especially since the two later reunited. The shift to Mali was aided by the spillover of the Libyan civil war, which erupted following the 2011 overthrow of Qaddafi by NATO forces. State collapse and disorder provided an abundance of weaponry and fighters and offered the prospect of safe haven. The weakness of the Malian state also facilitated the displacement.  The situation became so dire that in January 2013, France intervened at Mali’s request. A U.N. peacekeeping mission was also deployed.[71] Once its authority was more or less re-established, Mali entered into peace negotiations with the non-jihadist separatist groups. These twin military and political pressures stimulated complex organizational realignments in the jihadist network.[72] The renegade southern faction that led the incursion into Mali rejoined AQIM in 2015. The move probably reflected vulnerability to both American and French air strikes as well as disappointment over the fact that Al Qaeda central had not awarded the official recognition that the southern branch had sought. The reunification was also a response to the conclusion of a peace agreement in Mali that excluded jihadists.[73] Moreover, jihadists could maintain fighting capacity by retreating into the chaos of Libya. The organizational reintegration process was marked by a series of terrorist attacks on restaurants, hotels, and beaches frequented by foreigners and tourists. Targets were located in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Ivory Coast. Tellingly, an attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako in November 2015 was timed to coincide with the meeting of the official committee responsible for implementing the peace accord from which jihadists were excluded. AQIM was now definitively a pan-Sahel problem, and in February 2016 the five Sahel countries formed a regional force to combat terrorism (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania).[74] Further jihadist reorganization followed. In March 2017, a video announced the establishment of a supposedly new organization with an anodyne name, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (acronym JNIM). It was supposedly led not by AQIM, the major player, but by the former leader of the Ansar Dine group, an AQIM ally composed largely of Tuareg separatists from Mali. Al-Qaeda officially approved the new cooperative venture. In September 2018 JNIM became the latest addition to the American FTO roster.[75] Its immediate predecessor, designated in May, was the rival Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. The Saharan Islamic State branch had split from AQIM in spring 2015. The main Islamic State organization had already established a major base in Libya, attracting the defection of senior leaders from local Al Qaeda linked groups. After a protracted struggle, the Government of National Accord significantly assisted by United States air support drove the Islamic State out of its stronghold in Sirte in late 2016. The expulsion reduced the Islamic State presence in Libya but in turn may have allowed more space for AQIM. In March 2018, the first U.S. attack on Al Qaeda targets in Libya killed yet another high-ranking commander, while drone strikes continued to target the Islamic State.[76] Conclusion The convoluted inter-organizational dynamics that help perpetuate jihadist militancy are likely to persist, even as the United States withdraws from its foreign commitments. The question is the extent to which this possibly diluted but still potent form of jihadism threatens American and international security. Certainly, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their friends and affiliates are a source of serious instability in states lacking both a robust security apparatus and political legitimacy. It is not outside the realm of possibility that jihadist groups could prevail in present or future civil wars. This threat would likely spark outside military intervention, yet again. The jihadists’ capacity for directing complex mass-casualty terrorist attacks outside their base areas (as opposed to inspiring sporadic amateur “homegrown” terrorism) has not recently been demonstrated, but it could be revived if groups possess secure bases and are persuaded by the old al-Qaeda argument that the far enemy is the obstacle to the defense of Muslims worldwide. Martha Crenshaw is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.  She is the co-author of Countering Terrorism (Brookings, 2017).   

4. With Us and Against Us: Understanding the Mixed Record of U.S. Partners on Counter-Terrorism Cooperation Since 9/11

By Stephen Tankel Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, the anniversary of which we mark today, President George W. Bush gave an address in front of the U.S. Congress. He declared, “This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom. We ask every nation to join us.”[77] It was a clarion call for cooperation, but one that also came with an explicit threat. In the same address, Bush famously drew a line in the sand, saying, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” No government, other than the Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan, seriously entertained siding with al-Qaeda. Yet aligning with America in the “War on Terror” often has not translated to unity of action and purpose, or even effective cooperation. Most partner nations, especially in regions where the terrorists who threaten America are most concentrated, both help and hinder U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. Put another way, they are both with and against the United States. Yet, working with these countries is, for the most part, unavoidable. As the 9/11 Commission Report observed, “Practically every aspect of U.S. counterterrorism strategy relies on international cooperation.”[78] As inter-state competition displaces terrorism as the primary U.S. national security priority, getting more out of partner nations will be critical if the United States is going to do more with less when it comes to counter-terrorism. A core challenge for the United States is to consolidate cooperation where it is good, mitigate risks where it is bad, and get the most out of the space in between. This will require U.S. policymakers and practitioners to devote the same amount of attention and resources to understanding America’s partners as they do to understanding America’s enemies. In my most recent book, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, I analyze the factors that shape counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and partner nations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.[79] Combatting al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIL), and affiliated and associated terrorist groups has required the United States to adapt longstanding relationships with some countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa — and to forge new ones with others. If one considers the totality of U.S. counter-terrorism objectives writ large since 9/11, America has been asking for more over the past 17 years than it did before. The United States has also been seeking more from the countries in the aforementioned regions than ever before. In many cases, the United States is seeking cooperation against terrorists who operate on its partner nations’ territory. When it comes to these partnerships, the dynamics of traditional state-to-state alliances interact with the relations that exist between the partner nation and the terrorist group in question. Alliance dynamics include the nature of the U.S. bilateral relationship with the partner in question, and the instruments of statecraft it can bring to bear. State-to-terrorist relations, on the other hand, are a function of both how a state perceives the nature of a given terrorist threat and qualifies it relative to other threats, and how useful it believes the terrorist group to be. The interplay of these two relationships helps to determine the level and type of counter-terrorism cooperation that exists between the United States and a partner nation in four different areas: partner-led counter-terrorism operations that target terrorists or curtail illegal activities that support them; tactical cooperation, which includes the provision of access, intelligence cooperation, and coordination on detainees; regional cooperation, such as through coalitions or diplomatic initiatives; and “countering violent extremism” programs designed to address radicalization and recruitment.  Managing Expectations Because the United States cannot deploy combat troops to every country where terrorists operate, it works by, with, and through partner nations to take the fight to the enemy. Various factors influence whether a partner will expend effort and resources on a counter-terrorism campaign, including its capacity, strategic culture, and the popularity of the terrorists’ cause. A partner’s relationship with a terrorist group or infrastructure is the most critical factor. Where the United States and its partner share the same threat perceptions and both treat a terrorist group as a belligerent, strong bilateral relations and the provision of security assistance can augment and improve the partner’s counter-terrorism operations. However, the United States has often been unable to keep its partners from adopting repressive counter-terrorism approaches that violate the rule of law and fuel terrorist recruitment. In cases where a partner views a terrorist group as useful and nonthreatening, America’s use of incentives or coercion can sometimes move the needle when it comes to these types of counter-terrorism operations. However, such tactics cannot entirely overcome the dynamics related to terrorist-state relations. And while it may seem like a stretch to use the term “partner” when talking about a state that has positive relations with a terrorist group, Pakistan and Yemen did become critical counter-terrorism partners following the 9/11 attacks. The reasons why a partner does or does not conduct robust counter-terrorism operations targeting terrorist groups or infrastructure matter — or at least they should — when it comes to how the United States uses its instruments of statecraft. If resource shortages are a genuine problem for a state that is sincerely committed to conducting counter-terrorism operations, then capacity building might help it become a more effective partner. Conversely, if a state does not consider a terrorist group to be a threat, then pouring in aid is unlikely to make any difference unless its threat perception changes. This is even truer for states that consider a terrorist group to be useful in some way. Traditional alliance dynamics and instruments of statecraft — such as foreign assistance — are most useful for optimizing counter-terrorism cooperation when it comes to access for basing, troop presence, supply lines, over-flight, and drone strikes. These dynamics are also important for intelligence cooperation and coordination on detainees. Notably, these elements, which fall under the umbrella of tactical cooperation, are the most widespread. The United States cooperates on intelligence, coordinates on detainees, and seeks access from allies and partner nations around the world, regardless of whether terrorists operate on or near their territory. Critically, the absence of shared threat perceptions does not preclude tactical cooperation. States may provide access or limited intelligence cooperation even in cases where their position toward a terrorist group or infrastructure makes domestic counter-terrorism efforts unlikely. Sometimes, pre-existing agreements regarding access or longstanding relationships between intelligence agencies help to facilitate ongoing cooperation. Providing access or intelligence cooperation also enables a partner to service its relationship with the United States (and perhaps keep assistance flowing) without acting against its core interests by conducting counter-terrorism operations, committing to regional efforts, or undertaking painful domestic reforms that it does not wish to pursue. Indeed, American officials are often reluctant to press partners in these areas lest they jeopardize access or intelligence cooperation. Of course, stating that traditional alliance dynamics and instruments of statecraft are most useful for optimizing tactical cooperation does not mean that threat perceptions are moot. They still matter, more in some cases than others. If the United States and another country share common threat perceptions, this can enhance these aspects of tactical cooperation. Indeed, some cooperation is even possible in cases where alliance dynamics are weak or nonexistent. For example, the United States cooperated with Syria after 9/11 on rendition and limited intelligence sharing. Conversely, sharing a belligerent position toward a terrorist group does not guarantee tactical cooperation. Algeria and the United States both prioritized counter-terrorism after 9/11, but the Algerian government was unwilling to provide access in large part because of its history of anti-colonialism. Similarly, for years after 9/11, Algerian intelligence officers treated their American colleagues more as counterintelligence threats than counter-terrorism partners. Since 9/11, accomplishing U.S. counter-terrorism objectives has increasingly necessitated contributions from allies and partners to regional counter-terrorism missions, military coalitions, stabilization of conflict zones, and diplomatic initiatives to settle conflicts that enable terrorists to operate freely. A country’s relationship with the United States can be a major determinant of whether and how it cooperates on regional issues. However, whether or not participants deliver often depends heavily on their threat perceptions and capabilities. States may “free ride” in cases where they perceive a threat but believe they can sit back and allow the United States or other countries to do the heavy lifting. Partner nations also sometimes calibrate contributions to a regional initiative based on whether or not they believe robust participation will help or hinder their ability to compete with a regional rival. Take, for example, the anti-ISIL coalition: Many of the key regional players were more invested in toppling the Syrian regime or pursuing other agendas than they were in taking down the jihadist group. As ISIL has lost territory, competition among regional actors has fueled struggles over liberated areas and complicated attempts to build on military gains. One of the many lessons the United States has learned since 9/11 is that it cannot kill its way out of the terrorism problem. Thus, it has attempted, often unsuccessfully, to counter radicalization and jihadist recruitment in countries with large Muslim populations. These efforts fall under the umbrella of countering violent extremism (CVE). Some U.S. officials and counter-terrorism experts have argued for narrowing the scope of CVE initiatives to directly focus on keeping people at risk of executing or supporting terrorist violence from doing so. Others insist on the need for a more wide-ranging approach that includes CVE-relevant activities to address myriad societal risk factors, including poor governance, corruption, inadequate rule of law, economic underperformance, and underinvestment in education and infrastructure. Experts and scholars are beginning to make progress in terms of how to assess, monitor, and evaluate CVE programs. Yet measuring a partner nation’s cooperation on CVE has been and remains difficult for multiple reasons. To begin with, there is no standard set of methods for measurement. And, while data from the United States is hard to find, it is even harder to find data from foreign governments. Then there is the persistent disagreement over which factors contribute to radicalization or recruitment. Finally, it remains challenging to demonstrate conclusively why something — in this case an individual becoming radicalized or joining a terrorist group — does not occur. Nevertheless, it is possible to make two observations. First, partner nations, at least ones in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, appear more willing to implement direct or CVE-specific initiatives than they are to embrace indirect or CVE-relevant reforms related to governance, rule of law, or other structural factors. Second, governments in these regions that implement CVE-specific programs often undercut their value by actively restricting space for civil society organizations, which most experts contend should play a crucial role in countering radicalization and recruitment. These governments increasingly are adopting overly broad definitions of terrorism and violent extremism in order to repress these organizations. Know Your Enemies and Your Partners America already had plenty of counter-terrorism instruments at its disposal on 9/11. In the past 17 years, it has expanded its toolkit substantially. The United States has improved its existing capabilities, especially in the areas of intelligence and surveillance, and unleashed new ones, such as the use of drones to launch missile strikes. Yet, despite these advances, counter-terrorism efforts cannot be conducted unilaterally if they are to be both successful and sustainable. This has always been true, and takes on added importance as the United States transitions from prioritizing counter-terrorism to concentrating on great-power competition. Most partners simultaneously help and hinder the U.S. pursuit of its counter-terrorism objectives. Getting the most out of cooperation with other countries, knowing when to shrink or sever partnerships, and recognizing countries worthy of greater investment necessitates that policymakers have realistic expectations about what U.S. partners can or are willing to offer. It is critical to understand the security paradigm that drives a partner’s decision-making, how relations with the terrorist groups that are the target of cooperation fit into that paradigm, and how U.S. policies influence the political and security challenges that a given partner faces. Stephen Tankel is an associate professor at American University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a senior editor at War on the Rocks, and the author of With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror.  

5. What Progress Has America Made after 17 Years of Global Counter-Terrorism Efforts?

By Michael P. Dempsey As we approach the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it’s an opportune moment to stand back and assess both the progress America has achieved in its counter-terrorism fight and the critical work that remains to be done. In examining the campaign’s progress, I believe that it’s worthwhile to look across several broad mission categories to determine whether America is proceeding along a path that will significantly reduce the terrorist threat, or whether it might be time to adjust key elements of the current approach. Protecting the Homeland As a starting point, in the years since 9/11 there has thankfully been no repetition of a centrally directed, large-scale terrorist attack inside the United States, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself, and a credit to the exceptional work of America’s military, intelligence, and law enforcement services. To be sure, the homeland threat has not been entirely eliminated. In the past 17 years, more than 400 Americans and others living inside the United States have been charged with participating in terrorism-related activities, and more than 100 Americans have been killed in various attacks.[80] However, the success in forestalling a second major externally directed attack within the homeland is, in my view, a major achievement. In the nearly two decades since 9/11, America’s homeland defense capabilities have improved by an order of magnitude. Much of this progress is attributable to an increased focus by government agencies on the terrorism threat, as well as a cultural shift within a few key agencies, especially the FBI,[81] to emphasize attack prevention rather than prosecution after the fact.[82] There also has been an exponential increase in collaboration between federal law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and their local partners, especially in sharing new identification and collection technologies, travel information, and threat reporting. So, although there is still critical work to do, especially in trying to prevent lone wolf, jihadist-inspired attacks and in balancing the government’s need to collect potentially sensitive information with the privacy rights of every American citizen, it’s clear that the multi-year effort to harden the homeland from major terrorist attacks has made significant progress. Seizing the Battlefield Initiative Only a few years ago, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate held considerable territory in northwestern Syria,[83] and the group’s affiliates in both Yemen and Somalia held large swaths of terrain in both countries. The Islamic State, meanwhile, was on the march in Syria and then Iraq, capturing Mosul, threatening Erbil, and even triggering concerns in the West about an eventual assault on Baghdad.[84] That situation has, thankfully, been largely reversed, and the American military, along with its coalition partners, has dealt a series of major battlefield blows to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In the fight against al-Qaeda, for example, the United States has succeeded in eliminating several key leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abu Yaha al-Libi (its second in command), and reportedly last month, Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s infamous chief bomb maker. Asiri’s removal is especially significant because of his unique technical skills and creativity, and his central involvement in operations ranging from the attempted “underwear bombing” aboard an airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009, to his reported efforts to devise increasingly complex bombs and embed them inside electronic equipment capable of defeating airline detection systems.[85] U.S. and coalition efforts to contain and roll back al-Qaeda’s franchises and allies have also made significant gains. In Somalia, for example, al-Shabab has suffered several setbacks, including losing the important port cities of Kismayo and Baware to the combined military operations of African Union and Somali security forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes.[86] Illustrative of America’s heavy engagement in Somalia, the U.S. military has already reportedly conducted nearly two dozen airstrikes against Al Shabab in 2018, which is on pace to meet or exceed last year’s total.[87] Moreover, in Yemen, al-Qaeda now controls only about half of the territory it controlled at its peak in 2015. In April 2016, the group lost the important port city of Mukalla to Yemeni government forces assisted by troops from the United Arab Emirates.[88] Meanwhile, in the fight against the self-professed Islamic State, the United States and its allies have made great strides across a broad front. In Iraq and Syria, the U.S-led coalition has virtually eliminated the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, dramatically reduced its financial resources, and killed thousands of the group’s fighters, as well as many of its key leaders. The coalition has also reduced to a trickle the flow of foreign fighters entering the Islamic State’s ranks in Iraq and Syria and, with the seizure of Mosul and Raqqa, significantly curtailed the group’s social media outreach.[89] At the same time, the United States and its allies have inflicted considerable pain on the Islamic State’s overseas affiliates, particularly its branches in Afghanistan (where the affiliate’s senior leader was killed last month),[90] Libya, Mali, and Yemen. Restricting the Terrorists’ Ability to Adapt and Regroup Even as America and its allies have seized the battlefield momentum, there are worrisome signs that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are rebuilding, shifting tactics, and potentially preparing for a resurgence. Although al-Qaeda has suffered military setbacks, lost territory, and maintained a lower profile in recent years, terrorism experts note that the group is rebuilding quietly and is methodically bolstering its various branches. These experts note that al-Qaeda has deliberately avoided staging high profile attacks in the West so that the Islamic State would receive most of America’s military attention, allowing al-Qaeda to operate below the radar, especially in Syria, while fortifying its strength. Indeed, the latest estimates are that al-Qaeda still maintains an expansive global network of affiliates, and has managed to secure the loyalty of well over 10,000 followers in Syria alone (with most concentrated in Idlib Province, which is now under siege by Russian and Syrian state forces). The group reportedly also retains several thousand supporters in both Yemen and Somalia. And while my experience suggests that personnel estimates for groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are notoriously unreliable, the broad trends do highlight a worrisome fact — that even in the face of crippling setbacks, these groups are still able to attract and retain followers.[91] As for the Islamic State, while it no longer controls significant territory in Iraq and Syria, it maintains a small presence in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria, and is slowly expanding its presence in Diyala, Salah ad-Din, and Kirkuk in Iraq.[92] Meanwhile in Libya, the Islamic State has lost control of Sirte and oil rich areas of the country, but in recent months has established cells around Tripoli and has carved out a significant presence in southern Libya. The Islamic State has also been more active operationally in recent months, launching a series of attacks across the globe that have killed hundreds and wounded many hundreds more. These attacks have occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Sinai, and in Syria. It’s also noteworthy that even after the fall of the caliphate, not one Islamic State branch has renounced their pledge of fealty to the group.[93] Somewhat surprisingly, the United Nations reports that many of the foreign fighters that flocked to the Islamic State’s banners in Iraq and Syria in recent years have largely remained there even after the caliphate’s fall, with recent data suggesting a lower than anticipated return of foreign fighters to their countries of origin.[94] This lack of movement has, on the one hand, provided the Islamic State with residual strength in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, a potential flood of battle-hardened Islamic State fighters returning to Western Europe and North America has been a key worry of Western intelligence services for most of the past decade, so this latest information that they are staying put is actually welcome news. It’s also evident that the Islamic State has altered its tactical approach over the past several months, avoiding direct, set-piece engagements with U.S. and allied forces, and instead resorting to isolated suicide attacks and hit-and-run operations. This allows the group to avoid casualties while also remaining militarily relevant.[95] On balance, then, it’s fair to say that while the United States has clearly regained the battlefield initiative from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, these groups remain wily, adaptive, and lethal, and neither shows any interest in ceding the field anytime soon. Draining the Swamp The question of whether America is removing terrorists from the battlefield faster than they are being replaced has formed the backdrop to every counter-terrorism policy discussion since 9/11, and remains just as relevant today as it was 17 years ago. Unfortunately, there are reasons to worry about current trends. First, the underlying conditions that have fueled the appeal of extremism for the past few decades — fear within vulnerable Sunni communities about the rise of Shia political power, the accompanying proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the collapse of local governing authority in countries from Afghanistan to Yemen, a lack of political space for young people and an accompanying rise in authoritarianism in key countries such as Egypt, and chronically high youth unemployment rates (approaching 30 percent) throughout the Middle East[96] — show no signs of improvement. In fact, in most instances, the trends are decidedly negative. These conditions are the kindling that will keep the extremist fire burning indefinitely. A corollary challenge emanating from this chaos is a growing population-displacement and refugee crisis, which is severely straining governments from Turkey to Jordan, and which may over time increase the appeal of the extremists’ message to segments of the displaced population that remain outside of a formal education process and have no viable employment opportunities. The West’s response to this humanitarian crisis has thus far been largely disjointed and ineffective. Reports about the lack of progress in rebuilding devastated Sunni communities in both Syria and Iraq are especially worrisome,[97] as a key element of the extremist recruiting pitch for years has been that they could offer better basic social services than the central government, and that only they could defend vulnerable Sunni communities. In my view, therefore, any effective long-term campaign to drain the swamp of potential al-Qaeda and Islamic State recruits will have to include programs to improve the quality of life and sense of security for communities devastated by the last several years of fighting. At the moment, that type of tailored assistance seems unlikely. Avoiding Unforced Errors Regardless of where one lands in the debate over whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003, there is no doubt that the invasion gave rise to al-Qaeda in Iraq the following year and lit a match to a combustible region. Similarly, while there were many legitimate reasons to draw down U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, there is also little doubt that the reduced U.S. footprint facilitated the sudden rise of the Islamic State, fueled of course by the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, the start of the Syrian civil war next door, and the unexpected collapse of the Iraqi military only three years later. And while there was certainly a case to be made for removing Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, several of the follow-on effects were quite severe, including the creation of a safe haven for the Islamic State along the coast, and the spillover of the Libyan conflict into sub-Saharan Africa. Thankfully, there have been noticeably fewer foreign policy actions over the past few years that have inadvertently complicated our counter-terrorism campaign on this scale, though there are some issues today that if not handled wisely could fall into the category of major unforced errors. For example, Western policymakers need to be extremely careful in their public rhetoric and actions to avoid creating the perception that the West’s fight against Islamic terrorists is actually a war against all Muslims. Also, Western leaders need to think through the full range of issues involved in determining the final disposition of foreign fighters held in captivity. Some key allies, for example, are likely to be pressured by their political leaders to halt counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States if, as has been reported in the press, the White House decides to send a small number of foreign fighters currently held in Syria to Guantanamo. There is also a growing risk of serious long-term reputational damage to America from its association with the type of incident that occurred last month in Yemen, where, as was widely reported, a busload of Yemeni children were killed by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike.[98] America’s military support to the Saudi campaign in Yemen, which is mainly limited to aerial refueling and targeting training, is nonetheless widely criticized in the Middle East — as well as by prominent international observers — for exacerbating the country’s humanitarian nightmare. According to the United Nations, nearly 9 million Yemenis are now on the brink of starvation in what it describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.[99] Therefore, America’s continuing link to the Saudi-led bombing campaign, whether fair or unfair, risks undercutting critical efforts to win hearts and minds in the global fight against extremism, and it would, in my view, behoove U.S. policymakers to redouble their efforts to help end this conflict. A final potential unforced error is the grinding conflict in Afghanistan, which continues to require the commitment of more than 10,000 American troops at a cost of more than $40 billion annually. In many ways, the conflict in Afghanistan is no longer central to the global counter-terrorism struggle, as al-Qaeda’s primary focus is in Syria and with its non-South Asian affiliates, and the Islamic State has at most a few thousand fighters in Afghanistan, located mainly in Nangarhar Province near the border with Pakistan. It’s also evident that the Taliban and the Islamic State hate each other, and press reports suggest that more Islamic State fighters have been killed by the Taliban than by Afghan security forces. The idea, therefore, of the Taliban taking over Kabul and allowing the Islamic State to establish a safe haven or al-Qaeda shifting the bulk of its fighters from Syria back to Afghanistan, seems highly unlikely. The remaining terrorists in Afghanistan are still a patchwork of groups focused primarily on local and regional grievances, thus far with no demonstrated ability or intent to operate internationally.[100] So, while there are many legitimate non-terrorism related reasons to maintain a U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers will need to carefully consider in the coming months whether the long-term terrorist threat there still merits the current commitment of U.S. troops and intelligence resources, or whether the U.S. would be better off redeploying some of these precious resources elsewhere. Laying the Groundwork for Long-Term Success? Along these lines, a final metric to examine is whether the current strategy for countering terrorism is sustainable over the long haul. While there is little doubt that that the United States military, law enforcement, and intelligence services are capable of carrying on this fight for the next few years, there are a few worrisome signs to consider. The cost of this fight is, by any measure, staggering. According to a recent report by the Stimson Center, the United States since 9/11 has on average spent approximately $186 billion per year on counter-terrorism funding (and nearly $3 trillion total) since 2002, an amount equal to about 15 percent of the government’s total discretionary spending.[101] That level of spending may become harder to sustain in the future given America’s growing national debt, and highlights an urgent need to increase efficiencies, avoid unnecessary mission duplication, and enhance burden sharing with our allies in this fight. It also brings to mind a warning from physicist Ernest Rutherford who once wryly remarked that, “We haven’t got the money, so we’ll have to think.” Meanwhile, the tremendous monetary commitment does not capture the total cost of this conflict. In particular, it does not take into account the enormous time and attention U.S. policymakers have had to devote to this issue over several years, and the myriad ways it has shaped America’s relationships with countries across the globe. In fact, as critics have noted, it’s fair to question whether the current counter-terrorism emphasis not only influences U.S. foreign policy, but distorts it and subordinates in its pursuit other critical U.S. interests such as democracy and human rights promotion.[102] While America can certainly bear the cost of the global counter-terrorism campaign at the moment, U.S. policymakers would be wise to constantly question whether there are options for driving down costs, increasing efficiencies, and bolstering its coalition’s contribution to this fight — particularly at a time when military competition with peer states such as China and Russia is on the rise. Lessons Learned America’s counter-terrorism campaign has come a long way from the frantic and frightening days immediately after 9/11. And while there is considerable work left to do and some key adjustments to be made, we have certainly learned important lessons that that will help U.S. policymakers to formulate a more tailored and effective counter-terrorism strategy going forward. We have learned, for example, about the enduring lethality and resiliency of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and the urgent requirement to deny them secure territory in which they can train fighters, plan attacks, raise revenue, and expand their online messaging efforts. We have learned about the enormous benefit of working closely with allies, especially from majority Muslim countries such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, who have deep expertise about the extremist threat and considerable ground truth to share. We have learned about the utility of empowering partners to spearhead offensive operations with U.S. military and intelligence backing. In this vein, it is critical going forward to maintain close relations with partners such as the Iraqi Special Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, allies that have borne the brunt of fighting and are essential to our effort to keep pressure on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. We have also learned about the need for a more proactive counter-radicalization strategy, especially online, that focuses primarily on the timeframe before an individual embraces the jihadists’ message and becomes committed to the terrorist cause. And we have learned about the need to formulate a cost-effective, integrated counter-terrorism strategy that begins to address the underlying causes of radicalization, especially in the Middle East, and which carefully balances the terrorism threat with other U.S. security priorities. Fully implementing these hard-earned lessons will not be easy, but will be critical to our eventual success. In the end, the past 17 years of America’s global counter-terrorism campaign have taught us that only with a creative, inclusive, flexible, and sustained approach will we be able to effectively tackle this challenge, and provide a more secure future for all Americans. Michael P. Dempsey is the national intelligence fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellowship sponsored by the U.S. government. He is the former acting director of national intelligence. All opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.  

6. Retrospect and Prospect: On Endless War

By David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside There is great benefit in thinking about your own country’s struggles while listening to someone else’s, particularly at a conference inspired by the attacks on 9/11 and conducted annually since. At the annual International Counterterrorism conference held this past week at the IDC-Herzilya,[103] we attended a panel titled, “Israel and Gaza: Hudna or Victory?” Hudna is an Arabic word meaning “cease fire,” but the Israelis at this conference understood it more as a “time-out.”[104] The panel consisted of Israeli security officials and politicians debating whether it was a good idea to negotiate with their opponents in order to stop recent border clashes and the periodic rocket, mortar, and flaming kite attacks directed at civilian targets in Israel. Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova, from the Israeli center-left Zionist Union party,[105] pithily summed up her perception of the government overtures in this way: “This is not an Israeli victory but a victory for radical Islam: Radical Islam - One, World - Zero.”[106] The body language of the former military official on the panel, whose experience in Gaza led him to argue for the benefits of hudna, made it obvious that the politician’s sound bite had found a tender spot. After all, who wants to be associated with an effort seen by some to appease terrorists, especially from the left side of the political spectrum? In a related observation, the outgoing U.S. commander of Afghanistan recently remarked that “it’s time for this war to end.”[107] This might be interpreted in many ways, but it is difficult not to think that it reflects the universal angst over the failure of the United States and its partners to achieve conflict termination in the larger war against jihadist militants. The conference forced the three of us — faculty of the U.S. Naval War College — to borrow from naval theorist Mahan and ask questions of retrospection and prospection:[108] How do we assess the evolution of our thinking and practice of counterterrorism since 9/11? What do those influences look like today in execution? How will the conflict be evaluated in ten years time? Retrospect Following the 9/11 attacks, successive U.S. administrations have promulgated three consistent objectives: First, to prevent additional mass casualty attacks on our homeland. Second, to find and punish those responsible. And third, to shatter the larger transnational terrorist movement’s capability and capacity to be a future threat. These reasonable objectives contrast with some of the associated rhetoric surrounding the "war on terror," often obscuring these objectives and seeking more expansive ones including eliminating terrorism writ large, eliminating “state-sponsored” terrorism, democratizing large parts of the Islamic world, and the attainment of perfect security for Americans at home and abroad. Ignoring the political rhetoric for the time being, and any corrosive effects it might have on clarity of purpose, we offer an objective evaluation of how the U.S. fared in achieving these three aims. To stop another mass casualty terrorist attack, the United States has reorganized its internal security institutions and upgraded law enforcement and both domestic and international intelligence capabilities.  While these severely complicate jihadist efforts to carry out mass casualty attacks on the United States, there are economic and social costs for this increased surveillance and government infringements on liberty.  In the pursuit of this quest, our political leaders have committed significant errors, such as invading Iraq, ostensibly to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to jihadist groups. Yet in a narrow but important sense, this concerted effort to prevent a large attack has been impressive and successful with a small residual risk. The hunt for the perpetrators, off to a good start in 2002, took longer than expected but largely achieved the objective in the end when Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. However, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who leads al-Qaeda, remains at large. Jihadist replacement of leaders with effective replacements, and the rise of the scion of Bin Laden have undercut perceptions of this success.[109] Furthermore, the use of torture to obtain information about terror attacks and the location of leaders has undermined future efforts. The United States and its partners have not only failed to cripple the global jihadist movement, the problem is orders of magnitude worse since 9/11. Although America’s counter-terrorism campaign has restricted jihadist capability to conduct major attacks in the United States, the same cannot be said for Europe, where large terrorist attacks by Islamic State operatives have killed scores of people and injured hundreds. The split between al-Qaeda and Islamic State in 2013 has complicated the picture for intelligence collection, forcing analysts to look in too many directions. Leaders from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State still exert control over their respective franchises, although in a degraded manner. The networks and affiliates are disaggregated, often focused on local sovereignty designs, and while nominally dedicated to global jihad are practically focused on influencing local Muslim populations.[110] Worryingly, this metastasizing jihadist movement is proving to be an adaptive enemy, operating in a globalized age that has dispersed impressive and cheap technological means to help them in their fight against states. Our evaluation of the attainment of these objectives fall in descending order, from mostly achieved for the first two to an insufficient grade for the last. Both the failure to manage the growth of the global jihadist movement, and the realization that even the destruction of the caliphate has not ended the campaign, inspires the frustration of politicians, practitioners, scholars, journalists, and voters. Worse, the passing scores on the first two objectives are only interim evaluations, not final ones. They require unending maintenance and attention. The resulting disillusionment, compounded by unforced errors that have made the conflict more expansive and expensive, is a serious issue that will continue to have profound consequences if unaddressed by our country’s leaders. To understand the source of this frustration, we present a metaphor to understand the challenges of combatting terrorism. Like analogies, there are many metaphors, and none are perfect, but this one is ours. The Problem with Pythons Florida has a bit of a Burmese python problem, as odd as that might seem. In an age of globalization, imported pet pythons somehow escaped into the Everglades, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They have expanded into an estimated population in the tens to hundreds of thousands — not exactly a small margin of error but a reflection of the difficulty in assessing the threat.[111] Described as an apex predator, the python’s breeding habits and voracious diet has been linked to the extinction of marsh hares and the devastation of small mammal populations in the Everglades. The stated goal of the scientists and policymakers tasked with winning “the war” on pythons is to reduce the environmental impact to “a manageable level.”[112] One scientist remarked that while there were other invasive species in Florida, Burmese pythons are “especially unnerving,” and “the idea that this giant snake that doesn’t belong here, is here, just really is in people’s hearts and minds.” All of these phrases should sound familiar for those who study counterinsurgency and terror. Much like the futility of trying to stop the growth of the python population, our failure to reduce the scale of global jihadism is more obvious than ever, with each of the successive “waves” growing larger and larger since the late 1970s.[113] A decade ago, the Islamic State of Iraq had a few thousand members. More recently, the Pentagon was claiming they had killed over 60,000 members.[114] The Islamic State has new franchises all over the world and an end-strength measured in tens of thousands. Like the jihadist problem, the origin of the python problem might be interesting but it is not instructive in creating any solution. Burmese pythons have adapted to their new environment, are almost impossible to find, and while posing little direct threat to humans are in the process of drastically affecting a delicate ecosystem with unknown consequences. Efforts to open up hunting of pythons by politicians are making a laughably small impact on the problem.[115] In essence, these dynamics are very similar to our current effort to reduce terrorism. All analogies and metaphors have their weakness, and this one suffers from a significant one: unlike pythons, terrorists kill people in increasing numbers with worrisome trends.[116] In an age characterized by the rapid transfer of technology, and despite exhortations by some that terrorism is a relatively insignificant problem, the risk of a large-scale terror attack is commensurately increasing.[117] Our past failures are eroding resolve to face up to and try to prevent this future attack, and this is compounded by the looming deficit crisis — some of it fueled by these same costly failures — that will naturally limit our ability to act. The rise of other risks to international cooperation and norms (dare we say an international order) will further complicate and distract from the risk of terrorism.[118] How will we get through the next decade without another massive loss of innocent life? Prospect and the Future of Endless War There are three factors that we think will determine the future trajectory of global efforts to reduce terror acts and associated loss of life and property. The first will center on whether a shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict can be attained. This failure is at the root of wasted effort, mistakes, and disillusionment. The second factor will depend on the management of scarce resources to continue prosecuting the war against jihadi actors in an era of multiplying threats. Finally, the outcome will be determined by the ability of policymakers to unify an international coalition to defeat members of the global jihadist movement, which while divided at the moment, still march to the beat of the same drum. War on Terror, or War in Error? The irony about a conference on terror in the 21st century is that you will rarely find the word “war” mentioned. In fact, most conventional definitions — including one long proposed by the conference organizer, Boaz Ganor — specifically exclude attacks on military targets as terrorism.[119] Proponents of this definition desire increased cooperation among international actors and are fearful of delegitimizing what some might call freedom fighters rebelling against brutal oppression. This is the problem in Syria, where critics of groups fighting Assad’s criminal attacks on his own population deliberately elide them with jihadist opportunists, who have quite separate political objectives. As a consequence of this exclusion of attacks on military targets — which often includes police and government workers, even experts get confused about what is terrorism and what is not.[120] Considering that insurgents always use terror in their campaigns to overtake the state, the line is always blurred. [121] The mistake of the Bush administration of terming the struggle as a “War on Terror” produced a distaste for thinking of the struggle as war, which in retrospect it has become — either due to our mistakes or because it was inevitable. Whichever the case, this is now a war, and describing it as such is a much better use of the word than the ubiquitous use of “hybrid war,” “political warfare,” “cyber war,” “economic war,” “the war on drugs,” and so on, when it is doubtful that anything related to war/warfare is happening in any of these constructs. The current effort to defeat the jihadis is a war in almost every sense, fought between military components with sizeable asymmetric power imbalances but nonetheless the power to control territory and populations and inflict violence on one another. It is common to think that the enemy’s strategy is to use terror to achieve their end state. The reality is not this simple. Instead, jihadists use terrorism against civilians and military targets as an integrated strategy of attrition/exhaustion/provocation. We refuse to accept this new reality and continue to misread our jihadi opponents, their objectives, and their relative success in achieving modest success to date. Any focus on the defeat of the caliphate,[122] and not the shocking fact that one was created in the first place by tens of thousands of locals and global migrants,[123] is a good example of this failure to understand. Governments exist in large part to protect its citizens from harm. Failure to do this has large repercussions for politicians. Kori Schake, a member of Bush’s National Security Council, told a panel dissecting the motives behind the Iraq invasion this year that rational arguments against invading Iraq were overcome by a palpable fear of an even larger terrorist attack, one that politicians of both parties in both branches were eager to prevent.[124] Accordingly, they overwhelmingly passed an authorization for the use of military force in 2002.[125] Sixteen years later, we still cannot accept the reality of the war we are fighting, and three administrations have used this law to justify war against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.[126] We are not executing a series of isolated military strikes with drones, but an extended and significant campaigns with no end in sight. Crocodiles Closer to the Canoe? Governments have to set priorities to protect their citizens, and efficiently allocate resources in order to protect its citizens and secure their welfare. The Trump administration’s new strategy directives reflect a desire to reshape a balance where the prosecution of the war against jihadist groups is sublimated in every sense to the need to counter a China increasingly acting in a “hegemonic” manner — not just regionally but also globally.[127] This move has been applauded for realistically and belatedly addressing the rise China as a geopolitical threat to the United States’ position as unchallenged global leader.  Fears that we are over-invested in the fight against jihadist groups, at the expense of attention to China or Russia, are valid and reasonable concerns addressed in the new National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. That being said, it could be just as much a mistake to understand China as a threat to the United States, as opposed to a competitor for political and economic influence.[128] While the competition for resources is always a zero-sum game, risk assessment is not. The probability of a Chinese threat to U.S. citizens, in an era of nuclear deterrence, is lower than the probability of a successful terror attack on U.S. soil, even if it would be much deadlier. Even if we were to decide to actively contest Chinese island building in the South China Sea, as well as influence efforts in South Asia and Africa, it is extremely unclear as to what we could actually do to stop what is a natural increase in influence due to their rising economic power. Furthermore, it is possible that China’s obtuse and clumsy efforts to use coercive tactics against South China Sea neighbors and political influence to manipulate internal political considerations in countries like Australia will inspire a natural and increasingly common backlash.[129] The dilemma of dealing with a rising China is an example of the strategic planning concept former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld popularized of “known knowns,” etc.[130] Despite indications of China’s growing power and new willingness to use it, there is little indication yet of how this will affect the current international order — one that has benefited China to a large degree and may continue to do so. This would function as a “known unknown.” In contrast, the jihadist threat is a “known known,” with their intentions telegraphed and their determination to fulfill the establishment of the caliphate proven. Without discounting the importance of a new shared awareness that China could develop into a serious threat to stability and the U.S. position as an indispensible leader of the global community, we cannot fail to deal with the “known known.” Certainly, the lessons of chasing uncertain futures should be familiar enough to give us pause. Coalitions of the Willing, and Able The initial response to the establishment of the caliphate in 2014 was uncertain, dividing those who urged rollback from those who advised containment.[131] Subsequent terrorist attacks around the world inspired a slow shift to rollback as the preferred option, and today the self-proclaimed caliphate is no more. Despite this achievement, there has been only limited commitment to the reconstruction necessary to prevent an Islamic State resurgence.[132] States are still largely focused on perceived threats against their specific country, and retain a parochial attitude in approaching the jihadi groups that might be organizationally divided, but follow the same ideology. This well-articulated doctrine clearly defines the enemy, the strategy, and the acceptable tactics for engagement.[133] Despite significant efforts by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate, this lack of unity of the targets of terrorism will likely increase thanks to a U.S. administration that embraces a go-it-alone approach and disdain for the benefits of international cooperation and unified action.[134] The only thing preventing this to date are the efforts of individual diplomats and administration figures dedicated to reducing the threat of terrorism.[135] An important point that came up in the counterterrorism conference was a plea for countries to take responsibility for their citizens that committed terror acts in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Despite the new understanding of the dangers of allowing jihadists to build new networks around the world, countries have increased citizenship revocation for foreign terrorist fighters to avoid bringing them home.[136] To avoid the hassles and risk of repatriating, prosecuting, detaining, rehabilitating, and reintegrating these individuals, countries are passing the buck and contributing to the building of the future fifth wave of global jihad. One United Nations representative at the conference admitted that Russia was taking the lead on repatriating the children of foreign terrorist fighters to grandparents in their country, in an ironic contrast to several liberal democracies.[137] While countries are cooperating in this collective action problem, the absence of leadership from the United States is problematic.[138] We end this analysis by presenting a possible black swan related to the fight against jihadist foes. The United States and others have largely ignored Chinese actions concerning its Uighur population, Muslims who live in the Western province of Xinjiang. Reports that over a million Uighurs have been interned and subject to reeducation because of their religious beliefs could be the inspiration for the unity and support the jihadis have tried so hard to win, especially if the repression inspires an uprising.[139] Anyone entertaining a bit of schadenfreude over these Chinese missteps has failed to learn the lessons of 9/11, and of life in our globalized and ever interconnected world. The Uighur issue might start as a Chinese problem, but it will not end as a strictly Chinese problem. Conclusions How do we think the scorecard on these three factors will look in a decade? It is too early to predict but we are not off to a good start. A lack of confidence in our own values due to past mistakes and shameful violations of our own values are fueling an inclination to reduce our efforts against groups that use terror because of a belief that we are the cause of this increase in terror.[140] Just as the invasion of Iraq was an overreaction inspired by fear, our possible disengagement from the fight against violent extremists could end up as an overreaction to a failure to make an impact on the level of terror violence, and used by populist politicians to justify retrenchment. Western polities are divided and nonchalantly discuss possibilities of civil war, and focus on identity at the cost of unity.[141] Distaste for concepts like limited war against the jihadists, meaning limited objectives as well as limited resources, could force us to use illogical constructs like victory to judge success, much like the Israeli politician calling the negotiations with Hamas a defeat in the global war on terror. Until our politicians embrace these distinctions, or at least refrain from using them against their government opponents, we will never understand the war that we have been fighting, a war that will continue. This war plays out in fits and spurts, and the intensity of it ebbs and flows. The anniversary of 9/11 is a great time to conduct introspection; our governments owe us some real talk on what will continue to be a long struggle to reduce terror attacks around the world. David A. Brown is the executive director of the Advanced Naval Strategist Program and co-director of the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups. Tim Hoyt is the John Nicholas Brown Chair of Counterterrorism, a professor of strategy and policy, and the acting director of the Advanced Strategist Program  Craig Whiteside is a professor of national security affairs.   All three are faculty members of the U.S. Naval War College. The opinions are the views of the authors and do not reflect any official policy or view of the U.S. government.  

7. Another Year of the War in Afghanistan

By A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner In August 2017, President Donald Trump rubberstamped his predecessors’ failed policies when he announced America’s recommitment to the mission in Afghanistan. In his speech, Trump made the same promises of victory and signed on to the same set of goals outlined many times by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama: Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition:  attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.[142] Trump’s plan for victory in Afghanistan was dead on arrival. Based on the same faulty premises about the threat of terrorism and the benefits of military action, Trump’s Afghanistan campaign has done little to make Americans safer. None of this is news. By the time Trump made his announcement last year, the fundamental indicators of failure in Afghanistan had been easy to see for quite some time. Why has the United States embraced the same feckless strategy over 17 years and three presidents? The answer is simple: Washington’s continued embrace of a host of strategic myths. The safe haven fallacy has promoted unwarranted concern over the threat of future terrorism. When Trump asked why the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense James Mattis responded, “to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square.”[143] And indeed, many argue that the failure of terrorists to launch a second 9/11-style attack proves the value of continued American efforts in Afghanistan and military action elsewhere. In his August 2017 speech, Trump made it clear that this argument was central to his decision to extend the American commitment to Afghanistan, noting, The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.  9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.  A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.[144] Despite its popularity in Washington,[145] the safe haven argument is overblown.[146] The most important base of operations for the 9/11 terrorists was not Afghanistan, but the United States. As the 9/11 commission report describes, all of the hijackers entered the United States legally,[147] where they received their technical (pilot) training, not in some clandestine Afghan camp. Without the ability to carry out their preparations here in the United States, the 9/11 attack might not have occurred. Post-9/11 security reforms have made it far more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States, and they now are unable to access such sophisticated training without raising suspicion. These efforts, not the campaign in Afghanistan, have been the most effective in curtailing the ability of would-be terrorists to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. More generally, the safe haven fallacy is an argument for endless war based on unwarranted worst-case scenario assumptions. To worry about an attack from Afghanistan, a capable terrorist group must have room to operate there safely, must decide a major attack on the U.S. homeland is a good idea, and must figure out a way to carry out that attack from Afghanistan — 7,000 miles from the American homeland — without the sort of support within the United States that al-Qaeda enjoyed in 2001. And all of this must occur without the United States detecting and disrupting the plot. Though the defense establishment gets paid to plan for trouble, this series of events is so unlikely it does not justify the occupation of Afghanistan today or tomorrow. If the United States left Afghanistan and the Taliban took control again, why would they provide support to Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or some other group with plans to repeat 9/11? The Taliban did not attack the United States, and they certainly did not benefit from al-Qaeda’s strike on the United States. Moreover, leaving Afghanistan does not mean the United States has to ignore what is happening there. Intelligence can provide early warning should events someday point toward the possibility that a major attack on the United States is becoming more likely. At that point the United States could intervene in a more limited fashion to deal with gathering threats. The belief that terrorism and the conflicts and animosities which give rise to it can be eradicated is the second myth propagating the effort in Afghanistan.[148] Trump’s promise to obliterate the self-proclaimed Islamic State and crush al-Qaeda, while emotionally satisfying, is strategically misguided. The roots of terrorism, like the causes of war, run too deep for even a superpower to do much about.[149] Defeating al-Qaeda and the Islamic State will not put an end to jihadist terrorism because the organizations themselves are simply the symptoms of underlying political dynamics and fundamental social and cultural conflicts, not their cause. Declaring war on these symptoms and intervening in nations riven by conflict is a recipe for failure. The evidence indicates America is further from defeating jihadist groups than it was on Sept. 12, 2001. Despite 17 years in Afghanistan, almost as long in Iraq, as well as drone strikes and special operations missions in Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines, and Mali, the State Department reports that the number of Islamist-inspired terrorist groups has tripled since 2001,[150] while the number of fighters has risen from approximately 32,000 to more than 100,000.[151] In Afghanistan alone, there are as many as 20 such groups operating.[152] And though no one is suggesting that American intervention is the only important factor, it seems more likely that America’s presence in Afghanistan is making things worse than making things better when it comes to eliminating the threat. Finally, American military and political leaders wrongly believe that the key to “victory” in Afghanistan is merely a question of convincing the Taliban of American resolve. In contrast to Obama, Trump promised that the American presence in Afghanistan would be condition-based, not time limited, in an effort to pressure the Taliban to negotiate. As a Pentagon report from December 2017 put it, "The objective of the campaign is to convince the Taliban that they cannot win on the battlefield.”[153] With fewer troops on the ground than during the Obama surge, the notion that Trump’s approach is going to produce more leverage is fantastical. Today the Taliban control, contest, or influence more territory than at any point since they were ejected from power in 2001.[154] Making things even worse, the current Afghan government is a disaster. Not only is the government incapable of protecting its own people without help from the United States, Freedom House assesses Afghans as “not free,” the same rating from the Taliban days, and in terms of corruption, Afghanistan ranks fourth worst in the global system.[155] Simply put, nothing the United States is doing will encourage the Taliban to change its course, regardless of how much resolve Trump and his generals have. The failures of America’s war on terror are obvious at this point — even to the president. During his August 2017 speech, Trump began by noting that he shared the public’s frustration with the costly and prolonged stalemate and that his first instinct was to pull American troops out of Afghanistan.[156] As we remember the victims of 9/11 and honor the millions who have served in the war that followed, it is past time for the United States to find its way out of Afghanistan. Trevor Thrall is an associate professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.  Erik Goepner (Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired) commanded military units in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he is currently an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.   Image: Michael Foran [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: 17 Years After September 11 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-17-years-after-september-11 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-19 12:31:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-19 16:31:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=716 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => To understand what has gone both right and wrong since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 202 [1] => 187 [2] => 155 [3] => 206 [4] => 204 [5] => 205 [6] => 203 [7] => 207 [8] => 208 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] “Twin Towers Demolished, Pentagon Hit in Terrorist Attacks,” Fox News, Sept. 12, 2001, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2001/09/12/twin-towers-demolished-pentagon-hit-in-terrorist-attacks.html [2] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia, 2018). [3] “A Timeline of the U.S. War in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan. [4] Steve Coll, “We Can’t Win in Afghanistan Because We Don’t Know Why We’re There,” New York Times, Jan. 26, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/opinion/sunday/united-states-afghanistan-win.html. [5] Michael P. Dempsey, “No Longer a Haven for International Terrorists,” New York Times, Dec. 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/03/opinion/no-longer-a-haven-for-international-terrorists.html. [6] Dexter Filkins, The Forever War, (New York: Penguin Random House, 2009). [7] Tricia Bacon, “Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?,” Security Studies 27, no. 3 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1416813. [8] Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban / Al-Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970–2010 (London: Hurst, 2012). [9] Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War Against America (New York: Penguin Random House, 2002). [10] Atiyah abd al-Rahman (aka Mahmud), “Government Exhibit 421,” June 19, 2010, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, https://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/EXHIBIT-421-ENG-TRANS-EX-420-76C5764D-1.pdf; Thomas Joscelyn, “Zawahiri Calls on Muslims to Support Taliban, Reject Islamic State,” FDD's Long War Journal, Aug. 21, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/08/zawahiri-calls-on-muslims-to-support-taliban-reject-islamic-state.php. [11] “Undated letter re Afghanistan,” Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, declassified May 15, 2015, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/english/Undated%20letter%20re%20Afghanistan.pdf. [12] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations, July 27, 2018, http://undocs.org/S/2018/705. [13] Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin, 2004); “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Dec. 22, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB253/19981222.pdf; Zachary Laub, “The Taliban in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 4, 2014, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan. [14] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Sept. 24, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB97/tal26.pdf. [15] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Sept. 14, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc 6.pdf; “Strains Surface Between Taliban and Bin Ladin,” Central Intelligence Agency, January 1999, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/368942-1999-01-strains-surface-between-taliban-and-bin.html. [16] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Dec. 30, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc 6.pdf; Osama Bin Laden, “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” World Islamic Front Statement, Feb. 23, 1998, https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm; van Linschoten and Kuehn, An Enemy We Created. [17] "SITREP 6: Pakistan/Afghanistan Reaction to U.S. Strikes," U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Aug. 25, 1998,  https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc%204.pdf; "SITREP 7: Pakistan/Afghanistan Reaction to U.S. Strikes," U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Aug. 26, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc%205.pdf. [18] “Taliban Commander Reveals Anger at Al Qaeda, Dim Hopes for Victory,” TOLOnews, July 11, 2012, https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/taliban-commander-reveals-anger-al-qaeda-dim-hopes-victory. [19] “GTD Search Results,” Global Terrorism Database, accessed Sept. 9, 2018, https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?page=1&casualties_type=b&casualties_max=&dtp2=all&country=4&perpetrator=20029,40325&expanded=no&charttype=line&chart=overtime&ob=GTDID&od=desc - results-table. [20] “Afghanistan Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now,” Central Intelligence Agency, Mar. 23, 2001, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/368972-2001-03-23-afghanistan-taliban-holding-firm-on.html. [21] Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (New York: Henry Holt, 2014). [22] Michael Semple, “The Taliban Need Help to Break Their Al-Qaida Ties,” Guardian, Apr. 30, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/30/taliban-al-qaida-ties. [23] Michael Semple, Conversation with the author, Sept. 4, 2018, London. [24] Jason Burke, “Bin Laden Files Show Al-Qaida and Taliban Leaders in Close Contact,” Guardian, Apr. 29, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/apr/29/bin-laden-al-qaida-taliban-contact; Atiyah abd al-Rahman (aka Mahmud), “Government Exhibit 421,” June 19, 2010, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, https://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/EXHIBIT-421-ENG-TRANS-EX-420-76C5764D-1.pdf; Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen, “US Official: High-Level Al Qaeda Commander Killed in Afghanistan,” CNN, Dec. 5, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/05/politics/us-kills-high-level-al-qaeda-commander-omar-bin-khatab/index.html. [25] “Summary of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Author Unknown, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, declassified May 20, 2015, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/english/Summary on situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.pdf. [26] Rod Nordland, Ash Ngu, and Fahim Abed, “How the U.S. Government Misleads the Public on Afghanistan,” New York Times, Sept. 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/08/world/asia/us-misleads-on-afghanistan.html; “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, July 30, 2018, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2018-07-30qr.pdf. [27] Ashley Jackson, “Life under the Taliban Shadow Government,” ODI, June 2018, https://www.odi.org/publications/11144-life-under-taliban-shadow-government. [28] “Afghanistan Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now.” [29] Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018). [30] Aziz Amin Ahmadzai, “Iran’s Support for the Taliban Brings It to a Crossroads With Afghanistan,” Diplomat, May 21, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/irans-support-for-the-taliban-brings-it-to-a-crossroads-with-afghanistan/. [31] Mujib Mashal, “Afghan Taliban Awash in Heroin Cash, a Troubling Turn for War,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/world/asia/opium-heroin-afghanistan-taliban.html. [32] Gabriel Dominguez, “How the Taliban Get Their Money” Deutsche Welle, Jan. 21, 2016, https://www.dw.com/en/how-the-taliban-get-their-money/a-18995315. [33] Carlotta Gall, “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html. [34] Ayaz Gul, “Taliban Says IS ‘Purged’ From Northern Afghan Province,” VOA News, Aug. 1, 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-says-islamic-state-eliminated-from-northern-afghan-province/4508922.html. [35] Dan Lamothe, “‘Probably the Largest’ Al-Qaeda Training Camp Ever Destroyed in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/10/30/probably-the-largest-al-qaeda-training-camp-ever-destroyed-in-afghanistan/. [36] Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973–2012 (London: Hurst, 2013); Barbara Elias-Sanborn, ed., “The Haqqani History: Bin Ladin's Advocate Inside the Taliban,” National Security Archive, Sept. 11, 2012, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB389/. [37] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team”; Wesley Morgan, “Whatever Happened to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan?,” POLITICO, Aug. 15, 2018, https://politi.co/2Bl3t8u. [38] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (translated),” July 9, 2005, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2013/10/Zawahiris-Letter-to-Zarqawi-Translation.pdf. [39] Thomas Jocelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri swears allegiance to the Taliban’s new leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php. [40] Don Melvin, “Taliban Admit Mullah Omar Died in 2013,” CNN, Aug. 31, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/31/asia/taliban-mullah-omar-death/index.html. [41] Jack Moore, “Al-Qaeda’s Zawahiri Calls on Supporters to Reject ISIS and Support Taliban,” Newsweek, Aug. 22, 2016, https://www.newsweek.com/al-qaedas-zawahiri-calls-supporters-reject-isis-and-support-taliban-492337. [42] Barbara Elias, “Know Thine Enemy,” Foreign Affairs, Nov. 2, 2009, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/pakistan/2009-11-02/know-thine-enemy. [43] Douglas Frantz and David Rohde, “A NATION CHALLENGED: THE BOND; How Bin Laden and Taliban Forged Jihad Ties,” New York Times, Nov. 22, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/22/world/a-nation-challenged-the-bond-how-bin-laden-and-taliban-forged-jihad-ties.html. [44] Coll, Directorate S. [45] “The Al-Qaeda-Taliban Nexus,” Council on Foreign Relations, Nov. 24, 2009, https://www.cfr.org/expert-roundup/al-qaeda-taliban-nexus; Tricia Bacon and Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault, “Did Bin Laden’s Death Help the Islamic State?” Washington Post, May 2, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/05/02/did-bin-ladens-death-help-the-islamic-state/. [46] Bill Roggio, “Full Statement of Mullah Mansour Accepting Al Qaeda’s Oath of Allegiance,” FDD's Long War Journal, Aug. 14, 2015, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/08/full-statement-of-mullah-mansour-accepting-al-qaedas-oath-of-allegiance.php. [47] Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman Al Zawahiri Swears Allegiance to the Taliban’s New Leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php. [48] Abdulqahar Balkhi, “Message of Felicitation of the Esteemed Amir-Ul-Momineen, Shiekh-Ul-Hadith Hibatullah Akhundzada, (May Allah Protect Him), on the Occasion of Eid-Ul-Adha – Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Aug. 30, 2017, https://alemarah-english.com/?p=19352. [49] Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, “Taliban Rejects Peace Talks, Emphasizes Alliance with Al Qaeda in New Video,” FDD’s Long War Journal, Dec. 9, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/12/taliban-rejects-peace-talks-emphasizes-alliance-with-al-qaeda-in-new-video.php. [50] Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt, “White House Orders Direct Taliban Talks to Jump-Start Afghan Negotiations” New York Times, July 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-direct-negotiations.html. [51] Michael Semple,“Top Priorities for New Afghan Taliban Chief,” CNN, May 25, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/24/opinions/challenges-for-next-taliban-leader/index.html. [52] Theo Farrell and Michael Semple, “Making Peace with the Taliban,” Survival 57, no. 6 (2015), https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2015.1116157. [53]For figures on these costs, see Brown University Watson Institute Costs of War Project, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/. [54] David Rapoport originated the idea of “waves” of terrorism. See his article “The Fourth Wave: September 11 in the History of Terrorism,” Current History, 100 (December 2001), http://www.currenthistory.com/Article.php?ID=226. [55] Barak Mendelsohn, The Al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and its Consequences (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Camille Tawil, Brothers in Arms: The Story of Al-Qa’ida and the Arab Jihadists (London: Saqi Books, 2010; translated from the 2007 Arabic edition). [56] See the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation Mapping Militants Project, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. The website has detailed profiles of the militant groups mentioned in this analysis as well as diagrams of their relationships. The sources for the profiles are fully cited. For the most recent profile updates email crenshaw@stanford.edu. See also Martha Crenshaw, “Transnational Jihadism & Civil Wars,” Daedalus, 146, no. 4 (Fall 2017), https://doi.org/10.1162/DAED_a_00459. [57] For a comprehensive account upon which many of the following observations are based see Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Evolution of an Insurgency (London: Hurst Publishers, 2015); and “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham: to Unite or to Divide the Ranks?” in How Al-Qaeda Survived Drones, Uprisings, and the Islamic State: The Nature of the Current Threat, ed. Aaron Y. Zelin (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2017). [58] Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, “U.S. Places Militant Syrian Rebel Group on List of Terrorist Organizations,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/world/middleeast/us-designates-syrian-al-nusra-front-as-terrorist-group.html. [59] Mark MazzettiAdam Goldman, and Michael S. Schmidt, “Behind the Sudden Death of a $1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria,” New York Times, Aug. 2, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/world/middleeast/cia-syria-rebel-arm-train-trump.html. [60] Karen DeYoung, Liz Sly, and Missy Ryan,” US airstrikes target Al-Qaeda faction in Syria,” Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2014/11/06/d860ef47-40fa-4f85-8753-0d9de0a6830b_story.html?utm_term=.1d09add13f39. [61] See the profile of Ahrar Al-Sham on the website Mapping Militant Organizations, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. [62] DeYoung, et al., “US airstrikes”; and Lister, The Syrian Jihad. [63] As the organization evolved and the military situation grew more desperate, the al-Nusra group, in its new form as HTS, agreed to cooperate with Turkey, thus leading to more internal disputes and splits. See Akil Hussein, “Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s Deal with Turkey Further Alienates It from Other Jihadists,” The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, (November 2017), https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/hayat-tahrir-al-shams-deal-with-turkey-further-alienates-it-from-other-jihadists. [64] For an account of the evolution of al-Nusra, see the profile on the website Mapping Militant Organizations, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. On its transformation into HTS, see also Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria. [65] Charles Lister, “How al-Qa`ida Lost Control of its Syrian Affiliate: The Inside Story,” CTC Sentinel 11, no. 2 (February 2018), https://ctc.usma.edu/al-qaida-lost-control-syrian-affiliate-inside-story/. [66] Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Prepares to Reduce Troops and Shed Missions in Africa,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 2018,  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/01/world/africa/us-withdraw-troops-africa.html. [67] Speech at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies quoted in Dan Lamothe, “Mattis Unveils new Strategy Focused on Russia and China, Takes Congress to Task for Budget Impasse,” Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2018/01/19/mattis-calls-for-urgent-change-to-counter-russia-and-china-in-new-pentagon-strategy/?utm_term=.bd234c8cc0e5. [68] For an overview see Christopher S. Chivvis and Andrew Liepman, North Africa’s Menace: AQIM’s Evolution and the U.S. Policy Response (Santa Monica: Rand, 2013) and Marc Mémier, “AQMI et Al-Mourabitoun: le djihad sahélien réunifié?” Etudes de l’Ifri, 2017, http://base.afrique-gouvernance.net/docs/memier_aqmi_et_al-mourabitoun_fr_2017.compressed.pdf. See also Sergei Boeke, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Terrorism, insurgency, or organized crime?” Small Wars & Insurgencies 27, no. 5 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2016.1208280. [69] An analysis of the violent competition among the rebel groups in the Algerian civil war leading up to the 2006 merger is found in Mohammed M. Hafez, “Fratricidal Rebels: Ideological Extremity and Warring Factionalism in Civil Wars,” Terrorism and Political Violence 29, no. 6 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2017.1389726. [70] See Chivvis and Liepman, North Africa’s Menace; and Mémier, “AQMI et Al-Mourabitoun,.”  See also Samuel L. Aronson, “AQIM’s Threat to Western Interests in the Sahel,” CTC Sentinel 7, no. 4 (April 2014), https://ctc.usma.edu/aqims-threat-to-western-interests-in-the-sahel/. [71] See David J. Francis, “The regional impact of the armed conflict and French intervention in Mali,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre Report (April 2013), http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/7911~v~The_regional_impact_of_the_armed_conflict_and_French_intervention_in_Mali.pdf. [72] For a theoretical account of how AQIM has survived through fragmentation, also well-informed by primary sources, see Adib Bencherif, “From Resilience to Fragmentation: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Jihadist Group Modularity,” Terrorism and Political Violence (2017), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09546553.2017.1351956. [73] See commentary by the International Crisis Group, “The Sahel: Mali’s Crumbling Peace Process and the Spreading Jihadist Threat,” March 1, 2017, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/mali/sahel-malis-crumbling-peace-process-and-spreading-jihadist-threat. [74] On the difficulties faced by the task force see, “Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force,” International Crisis Group Report No. 258, Dec. 12, 2017, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/258-force-du-g5-sahel-trouver-sa-place-dans-lembouteillage-securitaire. 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