America’s quest to enhance global counter-terrorism | Daily News
21st anniversary of 9/11 terror attacks in U.S. tomorrow

America’s quest to enhance global counter-terrorism

USAF B-52 bomber.
USAF B-52 bomber.

In the wake of 9/11, no additional major foreign terrorist attacks took place within the United States itself. This is the result of multiple lines of effort. The United States acting prudently created new institutions including the Department of Homeland Security, Directorate of National Intelligence and National Counterterrorism Center. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, many voices across America’s political and ideological spectrum faithfully backed a clarion call to support freedom and democracy to counter the extremist ideas that fuel terrorist networks. The extremist ideologies that were present 20 years ago have evolved, taken on different forms, spreading rapidly across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The nature of a terrorist organisation is versatile and adaptive. According to the CIA’s strategy for counterterrorism, terrorism often does not originate from a single aggressor or location. Rather, the threat is often multilateral and international.

U.S. Special Operations forces killed Al-Qaida Leader Osama bin Laden in 2011. The United States had success in killing major terrorist leaders beyond bin Laden, including al-Qaida’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s Anwar al-Awlaki; and the Islamic State group’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. America remains an exceptionally wealthy nation with a resilient economy that can financially afford to fearlessly meet threats overseas. The ideological battle remains an important component in the challenge to counter extremism and terrorism.

USAF drone.

In retrospect Americans cannot forget the coordinated terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, against the country’s financial center in New York, its global military headquarters at the Pentagon, and its civil air transportation system. The images of New York Police and firefighters rushing into the burning World Trade Center to rescue those trapped—and the memory of their sacrifices—will not fade from our memory. These were the real life heroes. America, its NATO allies, and the U.N. Security Council responded with swiftness and ingenuity to protect its citizens in the immediate aftermath. The United States led international coalitions into three major wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Today, the United States is more secure on the home front from foreign terrorist attacks. Sadly however America faces increased domestic terrorist threats.

The United States substantially enhanced its capacities to track and shut down terror finance networks. It adapted its approaches to address terror threats in the cyber realm, staying ahead changing technologies. The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban following the U.S. military’s strategic withdrawal likely represents a setback. There is mounting speculation the Taliban will likely provide safe harbour to al-Qaida and other Salafi-jihadi terrorist groups moving forward.

Violent extremists

Terrorism is a dynamic, asymmetric form of warfare that requires aggressive, precise action against the organisation. Terrorist attacks once required extensive communications and planning—which took time and created leads for investigators to pursue. Now terrorism moves at the speed of social media. Foreign groups spread propaganda online to inspire lone actors to attack using easily accessible tools. In October 2017, when Sayfullo Saipov, an alleged Islamic State supporter radicalized online, plowed a rented truck through a crowd on a Manhattan bike path, killing eight people and injuring a dozen others. But the risk of online radicalization is not limited to foreign terrorist ideologies. An expanding array of radical beliefs is increasingly inspiring domestic terrorists. Racial and ethnic ideologies, anti-government and anti-authority sentiments, conspiracy theories—the extraordinary range of dangerous narratives circulated online compounds the challenge of identifying and stopping violent extremists. For the record there are millions of peace loving, decent Muslims living all over the world. These good people will condemn any form of terrorism.

US terror attacks on September 11, 2001. 

Unlike other terrorist disasters, 9/11 was a uniquely communal event: It occurred on live television, targeted symbols of American business and Government everyone recognized. The counterterrorism capacity and capabilities of the U.S. and its Western allies have improved over the past two decades specially in surveillance, droning, and information sharing. The September 11 terrorist incidents were notable for their large scale—in terms of both the damage incurred and the human resources needed to respond. I recall later how first responders spoke extensively about the difficulty of conducting search and rescue, fire suppression and stabilization operations, as well as hazard monitoring. The responses to the terrorist attacks involved days and weeks of constant work.

On May 24, 2014, a man walked into the Jewish Museum in Brussels and opened fire with a pistol and an AK-47, killing four people in just seconds. This attack was more than just another incident of senseless gun violence. The alleged perpetrator, Mehdi Nemmouche, was a French citizen who had spent the last year fighting Syria. As such, this attack appears to have been the very first instance of spillover of the Syrian civil war into the European Union. Western security services fear that the foreign fighter threat in Syria and Iraq is different in important ways than past foreign fighter problems. Young European and American Muslims will go off to fight in Syria and Iraq as Sunni idealists but will return as anti-Western terrorists. It is the Sunni foreign fighters from Europe and America, with passports that enable them to go anywhere in Europe or the United States without a visa, who worry Western officials.

Dangerous terrorist groups

Overall, security officials believe that the decision to go fight in a foreign conflict is usually less an act of religious commitment than of young male rebellion and thirst for adventure. While in the war zone, callow youths become seasoned combatants. Combat hardens the terrorist fighters, making them steady under pressure and giving them a sense of loyalty to their comrades. They also gain immediate and practical skills. We can assume that Iraq and Afghanistan are “training grounds” for foreign fighters where they learned urban warfare and how to use weapons. In the final step, the returned terrorist fighters begin to plot terrorist attacks in their country of permanent residence (across the globe). Slowly, they turn their attention away from the ‘foreign struggle’ that took them abroad and begin to focus on perceived injustices at home: insults against Islam from their country’s politicians.

Foreign fighters today are building networks with dangerous terrorist groups like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JN). Given language barriers and larger numbers of Europeans, some nationalities are now forming their own units that are organisationally distinct from, but subordinate to jihadist groups. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter all emerged during the 2000s as new tools for jihadists to use to mobilize followers.

The drone is an effective instrument of counterterrorism. Terrorism, highly elusive and adaptive, must be smitten down pervasively and aggressively. In order to do so, a nation must identify and eliminate the threat. The drone contributes to the counterterrorism mission by providing pervasive intelligence and aggressive strike capabilities. Both of these capabilities, unified in a single aircraft platform, hinder the operational capacity of the terrorist organisation by eliciting fear, fracturing communication and decimating their command. The US Air Force has excelled in calculated drone strikes to cripple the ISIS and other terrorist outfits. Drones collect intelligence efficiently via advanced visual equipment and long loiter capabilities. Both the Predator and the Reaper drones are equipped with high definition and thermal cameras on the undersides of their fuselages. Additionally, the drone loiters in the air longer than a conventional manned aircraft, maximizing reconnaissance time. Although airstrikes alone have not led to the decline of al Qaeda, it is important to note how constant deployment drones pervasively pounds the terrorist organisation. With constant aerial counterterrorism, the United States has “pounded on the jihadist terrorists operational capabilities”. America continues to lead the fight against terrorism within and beyond her borders.

The  memorial in USA.

(The writer is the author of Target Secured - Police Special Task Force)

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