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Response to Terrorism

In October 2001, America declared war against terror. The United States principal objective was Al-Qaeda and its Afghanistan bases, which the Taliban regime protected. Since then, the United States campaign has adopted various strategies, such as counterinsurgency approach aimed at American population and counter terrorist approach aimed at the enemy. Throughout the Cold War, America built her foreign policy on the twin bases of alliances and containment: the Soviet Union and allies’ containment and alliances with America’s friends in support of the containment. The vital element in the victory of that policy was the acceptance of both parties that the nuclear weaponry would exclude any preventative strike against each other. America called this policy the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The policy also had an additional important element, which was the fact that America’s allies and to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union’s allies could exercise limitations on the policy as well as the operations of all the participatory principals. Using this policy, America successfully contained the Cold War, preventing it from turning hot (Kayyem, 2003).

The intelligence community’s role during the Cold War was providing the policy makers with completed intelligence useful for making effective decisions. The Soviet Union’s demise as well as the end of accompanying threat of its weaponry ended that era. The 9/11 events set America on a completely new path. Since then, America has embarked on a new unfamiliar policy of creating and sustaining anxiety and fear in her citizens, a domestic policy that is dissent intolerant and pre-emptive unilateralism. The examination question is whether these new policies serve the country well in its ongoing struggle to combat terrorism. After several years of these policies and confrontations with terrorists, Taliban has collapsed and Al-Qaeda is still strong. The Taliban still has a strong influence in America, Afghanistan is neither stable nor secure and terrorism continues to be a daily threat to America. This paper examines America’s response to universal terrorism, as well as offers an understanding of the fallacies, misunderstandings and missteps of the new response approaches. The paper’s analysis also evaluates possible strategies of achieving lasting security and stability.

American administrations, both Democrat and Republican, made foreign policy decisions based on their domestic political needs as well as their objectives for the consideration areas. This prevented contribution from the intelligence community. Additionally, the domestic policy concentrated only on providing security to Americans. This brought forth certain issues such as rendition, wiretapping, the Patriot Act, torture, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Therefore, the government provided only unclear codes regarding terrorist threats and warning systems. The media, the Congress and public supporters resorted to other unfruitful approaches to eliminate terrorism. These approaches included name-calling and character assassination, which in turn instilled anxiety and fear. The Government would label anyone who disagreed with such policies as traitors, unpatriotic or terrorist sympathizers. In short, the Government and its supporters intimidated dissent. The outcomes of these approaches must have gladdened terrorist such as Osama bin Laden. America tarnished its name and created further chaos in the Middle East, destabilizing peace in some countries and weakening America’s authority over such countries. Moreover, the U.S. has been preoccupied with fundamental Muslim terrorism, hence shifting its focus to Afghanistan, and later, Iraq. Even though the 9/11 was a paramilitary operation, the American Administration enforced military response. It would be impossible to obtain a conventional war with these terrorists. This kind of terrorism would require a battle of “the minds”. Instead, the U.S. has focused on Al-Qaeda and its leadership, not realizing that once they eliminate or capture the leader, they may weaken the “center” but the organization’s power would disperse outwards to other fundamental elements. The terrorist movement has engaged in a type of McDonald’s franchising in its attempt to outshine America’s efforts. This means that the movement has devolved recruiting, planning and implementation to local groups and organizations.

Regardless of the victory against the Taliban regime, the United States initial approach aimed only at the enemy and lacked long term planning, hence paving the way to a rebellious movement against America’s presence in Afghanistan. In 2003, the strategies of the United States began focusing on the population, local support and government institutions. This shift included a fundamental change in operations and tactics, hence achieving positive results from 2003 to 2005. Nevertheless, this situation took a downhill since 2005 as casualties have increased, and both Al-Qaeda and Taliban have gained strength. Despite the introduction of new troops, the United States and coalition partners have failed to find ways of stabilizing the country.

Dealing with terrorism requires its definition, as well as the best way to perceive it. Scholars define terrorism as a constant use or threat of use of brutality by a meager group for political reasons such as instilling fear, attracting widespread attention to political grievances or provoking an unsuitable or draconian response. However, the U.S. attacks such as the 9/11 reveal a different form of terrorism. It is no longer actions by small groups attracting attention, but it is international networks of affiliated radical groups, whose main objective is inflicting mass casualties. Al-Qaeda hopes to overthrow the present world and the United States are its primary object. Therefore, Al-Qaeda is a severely large scale, international globalised insurgency.

After the 9/11 attack, the then U.S. President, George Bush, made a speech, in which he condemned Al-Qaeda for its attacks, and requested the Taliban to deliver all Al-Qaeda leaders present in Afghanistan. After this, the U.S. declared fight against terrorism, terming it a common enemy to the civilized nations. With his claim, the U.S. hoped to garner support from all Western nations, as well as launch an international crusade against terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. America also aimed at gaining the United Nations support and approval for the intervention. However, it is vital to realize that it is impossible to stop terrorism completely, though it is possible to subdue it (Farrell, 1982).

America combined law enforcements, military action, freeze financial assets and repeated international cooperation drives, in order to disrupt Afghanistan as a terrorist base, as well as counter Al-Qaeda. America’s use of planned aircraft equipped with new generation weapons offered it an immediate and consistent advantage on the terrorism battlefield. Additionally, the U.S. military demonstrated its commitments by deploying Special Operations Force to provide support from the alliance of northern Taliban. Following this, the Taliban regime collapsed and both Al-Qaeda and Taliban members resettled to eastern Afghanistan. The strategy that the United States applied combined an enemy-centric approach with network-centric as well as military efforts. This approach was successful, though for a very short time. The network centric approach aimed at attacking key targets such as Taliban training bases and communication lines, though this was insufficient on securing long lasting success. The enemy-centric approach aimed at drawing attention to the enemy while excluding the population; the process of offering services for the immediate communities, infrastructure and institution building. The United States included the population-centric approach to fighting terrorism in 2003. This approach aims at eliminating social support for Taliban and Al-Qaeda, building a reliably strong government and ensuring security to the public. Despite the establishment of a new government in Kabul by the Northern Alliance in 2002, a big percentage of the population, specifically the Pashtuns still felt excluded from the initiative. Consequently, Taliban obtained support from the Pashtuns and started to move back into Afghanistan.

The Bush Administration, through an elected government institution shifted its focus to Iraq; certain in the stabilizing function of the Afghan National Army (ANA) would play in ensuring order and stability. However, this new focus proved fatal because the Iraq war had  drawn resources and attention before America established the counter insurgency crusade in Afghanistan. This lack of planning had critical consequences on the Taliban resurgence. By May in 2003, it was obvious that a resurgence activity against the U.S. led coalition and the Government was not only operational in eastern Afghan, but also in the southern regions. The United States strategy excluded a counterinsurgency approach, and the U.S. failed act on countering insurgence of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban until in 2003. Instead of an approach that would focus on nation building, the U.S. focused only on obtaining practical ground victories, deploying few troops and resorting to raids. This resulted in a division of the Afghanistan coalition forces. The key mistake was a misunderstanding of the roots of local insurgencies. The insurgencies were not motivated by ideologies but by the lack of economic stability, security, coercion, tribal rivalries and the view of a corrupt government that could not provide security or exercise authority. The changes in the United States strategies took place at the end of 2003, because of the increased Taliban resurgence attacks on the American military. America based the new approach on counterinsurgency operations to corrode Taliban popularity and growth, which was Afghanistan driving tactic. The central principle that animated this new strategy was the recognition of the Afghan people as the core of significance in the counterinsurgency. The main objective was sustaining popular support to avoid local insurgencies and formation of coalitions with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Therefore, the U.S. increased its ground forces as well as the number of experts on the traditions and culture of Afghans. These military forces and experts engaged reconstruction in Afghanistan, strengthening confidence in and within the Afghan Government, and creating relations with local populations. The population-centered approach also complemented military operations. There was a decrease in air strikes in order to prevent local unrest. These air strikes were the primary reasons for local remonstration against the U.S. forces. Conversely, the increase in ground troops engendered support for the coalition’s objectives. This modification in strategy brought forth a stable operating environment and influenced more support from the local population for both the coalition forces and the Afghan Government (Crotty, 2004).

Still, all the 2005 achievements began fading after a few months in 2006. Taliban and Al-Qaeda changed tactics, gathered strength and increased their attacks and capabilities across the Pakistan border. This backward step reflected the U.S. announcement to withdraw two thousand five hundred troops and transfer military responsibility to NATO. This decision provided a perception of the U.S. detachment from Afghanistan. Additionally, the ANA and the Afghan Government were unable to provide security to the public. The U.S. readiness to withdraw military troops together with the Afghan Government unpopularity created a vacuum that the insurgent groups filled quickly. Taliban aimed at eliminating contact between the government and the population, thereby, disgracing ANA’s capacity to offer security and order. Taliban depicted the United States as an aggressive force, by forcing the U.S. to take over Afghan local security. Taliban gained power over several villages in the Eastern and Southern provinces, though their presence was also strong in cities like Ghazni and Kandahar. The situation is worse in regions bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Taliban and Al-Qaeda still maintain strong presence. The Pakistani Government rarely controls these regions, making the U.S. forces get into many difficulties. As a result, security and stability efforts are deteriorating.

Under the Obama Administration, the Afghanistan strategy underwent a few changes. In 2009, President Barack Obama initiated a new approach, which was based on attainable goals that would match the available resources. This approach aimed at dismantling, disrupting and defeating Al-Qaeda and its allies. The U.S. primary commitment is protecting Afghans and not killing the Taliban. This new counterinsurgency policy aims at tracking judicial reforms, protecting civilians and building a reliable police force as well as good governance. The commitment for more ground troops and the nation building approach hopes to counter insurgency, while military operations in the Pakistani border aims at defeating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. President Barack Obama also proposed to send additional troops not only to prevent Afghanistan from collapsing, but also to prevent Al-Qaeda from reinstituting Afghanistan as a safe haven of their operations. President Obama requested for an infusion of thirty thousand troops in December 2009. Most of the troops would function as trainers for the forces in Afghanistan in order to maintain security and stability in the event that the U.S. troops depart from Afghanistan. This increment in troops reflects the U.S. willingness to terminate a period of stalemate and losses, and to steadily shift the country’s security to the Afghan military. Eventually, however, most U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be insufficient in reversing the country’s security collapse (Emergency response to terrorism: basic concepts, 1997).

In the most current “Afghanistan Conference” held in London, the Afghan Government and the NATO Coalition recommended a “reintegration strategy”, which would reintegrate the insurgents and Taliban into the civil society and Afghan government through money offers. However, there are questions pertaining to whether the proposal would motivate the insurgents to integrate. Despite all these, Taliban has rejected every negotiation and proposal, because its only condition is for the foreign troops withdrawal. 

A response to terrorism does not only include government efforts. An effective response analysis requires an insight to the American people’s view and response to terrorism. The 9/11 events instigated a dramatic increase in public preparations for terrorist disasters in the U.S. The U.S. Government concentrated more in providing information and public education in order to make the public aware of terrorism. Moreover, these strategies would protect as well as empower the public to help the government prevent future attacks. The Government showed extreme value of engaging the public as a measure of gaining personal responsibility and preventing or preparing for future disasters. Studies reveal that most Americans have engaged several activities to reduce the effects and loss created by terrorist attacks. Some of these activities include developing emergency plans, duplicating important documents, becoming more vigilant, learning more about terrorism and purchased things that would increase their safety (Hirrel, 2003).

The U.S. can learn several lessons from its operation in Afghanistan and Iraq. After all these years, there are no visible sustainable achievements other than a few fallen victories. In order to avoid the re-establishment of safe havens in Afghanistan by the Al-Qaeda, it is essential to stabilize Afghanistan. Stability closely relates to a strong, efficient and reliable government, which Afghanistan still lacks. Furthermore, the ANA is still unable to offer security by itself, and therefore, it depends on foreign military to aid in delivering services to Afghans and maintaining order. However, the more the U.S. maintains its troops in Afghanistan, the more the local population becomes concerned, because Afghans perceive the U.S. presence as a threat to civilians and a source of instability. The lacking understanding of Afghan culture, institution and traditions negatively influenced the country’s attempts to create a strong government. A probable alternative could be the institution of a decisional body containing representatives elected by ethnic groups and villages. The chance for a fair representation by members of divergent minority communities could reassure Afghans and ensure they feel more secure and willing to cooperate with their government. The locals supported the Taliban not because of Taliban ideologies, but because the Taliban were strong enough to exercise coercive power, which the official government lacked. Consequently, it is necessary to institute reforms in the government that would counter incompetence and corruption (Scaramella, Cox, & McCamey, 2011).

It is suitable that the U.S. intervention primarily focuses on sustaining the achievements by maintaining a commitment to the local population. The extensive air strike use and drones have resulted to massive civilian casualties, which in turn raised anger and suspicion among Afghans. The air strikes become almost useless in attempts to pacify Afghanistan, since they do not assure security. There are proposals that the U.S. troops should only use air strikes when NATO troops are overwhelmed. The problem is establishing when the use of air strikes is necessary or when NATO troops are in danger. Another alternative would be an integrated training, where the ANA train together with the U.S. troops in order to create support and confidence from the Afghan military. It is also necessary for the Afghan police and army to become strong in order to garner support and trust from the public. This would replace foreign troops and facilitate withdrawal. Besides, while it is indisputable that the air strikes cause several casualties among the local public, it is also undeniable that most civilian casualties resulted from suicide attacks by the terrorists. Raising awareness among Afghans of the threats that suicide bombers pose could also shift bitterness from the coalition forces and troops to the terrorist groups. The dedication of additional troops in cities and villages should not encourage segregation of troops from the locals.

The Afghan and the U.S. overnments should encourage the military to communicate effectively with the Afghans in order to assert a friendly presence. There has also been a lack of partnership between the U.S. and nations bordering Afghanistan. This has hampered the United States stabilization efforts. The Bush Administration was unwilling to re-evaluate its strategies, especially after it overthrew Taliban. This caused negotiations to stagnate, requiring the U.S. to formulate an all-inclusive multilateral approach that would be effective in Afghanistan.


America’s strategy to respond to terrorism has taken several approaches including counter terrorism, counterinsurgency, population-centric warfare, enemy-centric and use of air strikes. Regardless of some initial achievements, terrorist situations in the U.S. by Al-Qaeda and Taliban become more complicated and far from elimination. Eight years after the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the troops and their associates have achieved neither security nor stability. Despite the quick Taliban defeat in 2001, local Afghans felt alienated from the American response to terrorism approach. The local population perceived the Afghan Government as weak and corrupt. The strategies that the U.S. troops applied did not consistently yield positive results, specifically, the lack of an effective and prompt counterinsurgency campaign. Other issues that nullified military achievements and efforts included the widespread use of air strikes and the lacking contact between the operation forces and the local population (Bush, 2001). The local population’s oppositions, lack of a credible government, lack of regional and neighbouring collaborations and regional interests nearly nullified the military efforts to overthrow Taliban and marginalize Al-Qaeda. The U.S. Administration change demanded new strategies, which focused on nation building, long-term stability and popular support. This shift reflected a move to a counterinsurgency approach, which would attain positive results that the conventional military forces were unable to achieve. Conversely, stabilizing and securing Afghanistan would take many years, though, this would prevent the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from gaining grounds in the country.

The paper has discussed these response strategies and provided possible alternatives that would successfully ensure the fight against terrorism, as well as the lessons that America should learn from its involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Responding to terrorism is incomplete without an inclusion of the American public. In so doing, the U.S. has sensitized its population about terrorism, in order to obtain support and ensure the public is well prepared for similar disasters.

Domestic Consideration The Conflict between the USA and Iraq
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