News / USA

Analysts: An Evolution in US Counterterrorism

FILE - Navy SEALs training. SEALs are maritime special operations forces who strike from the sea, air and land.
FILE - Navy SEALs training. SEALs are maritime special operations forces who strike from the sea, air and land.
William Eagle
The United States recently launched two raids on suspected terrorist hideouts in Somalia and Libya. In Somalia, Navy SEALS attempted to seize a senior leader of the radical terrorist group al-Shabab. In Libya, U.S. forces captured a senior al-Qaida figure wanted in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 15 years ago. Analysts from the RAND Corporation in Washington say the raids show an evolution in US policy - away from killing terrorists with a drone strike to taking them alive.

Alleged al-Qaida operative Abu Anas al-Libi is now in the US after spending several days under interrogation on an American warship in the Mediterranean.

Capture or kill?

Angel Rabasa, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation with a focus on radicalization in Africa, says incidents in other parts of the world show the importance of capturing terrorists. For example, in Indonesia, the government has successfully pursued the leaders of the armed Islamic group Al Jamaah Islamyia. 

“The Indonesian police and intelligence agencies have been very successful in breaking up the group and capturing leadership. They say 90 percent of the information they obtained about the group came from people who were captured and corroborated [details] with the authorities, or by defectors. The practice of the U.S.  using drones to get terrorists has been counterproductive - once you kill these fellows, you don’t have the ability to derive any information from them,” said Rabasa.

"Examples abound of captured terrorists providing critical information," he continued. "One of the leaders purged by al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubayr in Somalia was Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a senior leader and founder of the now disbanded group preceding it, al-Itihaad al-Islamiya.  After the purge, he fled and surrendered to Mogadishu authorities. He is now a prisoner and could be a source of invaluable information in the counter-terrorism effort."
 
Some analysts think experiences from Afghanistan and Indonesia have shown that direct U.S. military involvement - including putting troops into a conflict zone -- can increase local support for radical extremists, especially in regions with large Muslim populations.    

Limits to engagement

“There is a danger to inserting the U.S. into direct conflict with some of these groups that are not actively plotting against the U.S. [domestically].…" said Seth Jones, the associate director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center.

"One lesson from a different theater applies to Africa and to groups like al-Shabab: the U.S. in 2009 took out the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan Baitullah Mehsud with a drone strike with Pakistan’s  support. [However, in response] the next year, [the group] put a SUV with explosives inside Times Square [driven by] Faisal Shahzad.  He had problems building that bomb, but we went from an organization that was very parochial [and pushed them] to respond by targeting the US homeland. 

"So," he continuied, "we have to be careful with how we deal with some of these organizations that are not actively plotting [an attack within the US]."
 
Linda Robinson, a senior international policy analyst with RAND with expertise on joint force development and special operations forces, points out that there are alternatives to high-profile interventions by the U.S. For example, Washington can work with other countries that share an interest in eliminating terrorism in their region.

A tapestry of choices
 
“The broad tapestry of the menu I characterize as ‘soft partnering’ includes a wide variety of [options for US defense and intelligence officials]," explained Robinson.

"They can provide direct support, like aerial feed reconnaissance. They can put together intelligence packets. They may accompany the host nation or partner forces up to a target, but let them prosecute the target…They can stay behind the wire and just provide training; they can help write campaign plans. They can advise ministries. So there’s a whole gamut that falls short of doing a joint combat raid, which is yet another mode that they’ve been doing alongside the Afghan commandos in Afghanistan.”

Robinson also noted that Special Ops Forces are key players in the partnerships - and have played an important role in training forces in Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia against al-Shabab extremists in East Africa.  They’ve also worked to strengthen civil defense in rural areas of Afghanistan.

“In Afghanistan, village stability operations and local police was the largest such initiative since [the war in Vietnam in the 1960’s]. They have over 25,000 now standing local defenders. To me, that experiment has really rescued a forgotten skill set of the Special Ops forces so they can go out into the villages and live with [civilians] and help those willing to stand up and defend themselves. That is a sustainable solution where you get countries [providing for their own internal security], denying safe haven to terrorists,” said Robinson. 

Mindful of history

Analysts, however, warn that to be effective, partnerships must also take into consideration cultural and political dynamics of a region.

“For example, in working with Ethiopians in Somalia, there is historical baggage. They have been used by Shabab in Somalia as a recruitment and propaganda tool. One of the leaders of the Minnesota Somali community said that most of the folks in Minneapolis, who have fought in Somalia, have been recruited for nationalist rather than religious reasons… ," noted RAND analyst Seth Jones.

"So if you increasingly rely on the Kenyans and Ethiopians in countries like Somalia, the concern from some of the communities in the U.S. is that it [leads] into a nationalist fight…which has been the primary recruitment purpose for some of the Americans who have gone over to fight over there."

Unappealing alliances

Analysts say an important goal of U.S. policymakers should be to stop another form of partnership - those between Islamists with local grievances and global terrorists, who advocate a war against the West.

Angel Rabasa said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao, the Philippines, decided to break ties with a radical group in Indonesia. The move followed al-Qaida’s attacks on New York City and Washington in September 2001.

“The MILF prior to 9/11 had a relationship with the al Qaida-associated group in Southeast Asia, the Jemaah Islamyia. The JI established training camps in Mindanao in close association with MILF commanders.  But after 9/11 the leadership of MILF decided it was not in the interest of the group to be associated with al-Qaida and to bring on the opposition of the United States.  So, they broke relations with al-Qaida,” said Rabasa.
 
Rabasa said all local Islamic extremists are asking themselves whether the training and funding they get from an alliance with al-Qaida is worth the expense. The answer, he says, may depend on how successful the U.S. and its allies are in making such alliances very unappealing.

RAND analysts comment on US terrorism strategies
RAND analysts comment on US terrorism strategies i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Moshe Ben-Israel from: Tucson, AZ
October 21, 2013 3:17 PM
Taking prisoners has several major downsides: 1. More people, innocent, friendly & enemy will needlessly die in a capture operation as the Blackhawk down incident demonstrates. 2. Al-Qaeda prisoners are for life. 3. Gitmo never quits rearing its ugly head, etc. SOLUTION: Just kill them on sight as often as possible, until there are no more to kill. The USA's money and political ambitions are the main contributors to the formation of Maktab al-Khidamat, which soon became al-Qaeda. The US should stop the world wide intervention and just go after al-Qaeda, dead or deader. They are the USA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's rabid dog that needs to be put down. Let the nations fighting al-Qaeda set their own agenda. Radical Islam is an idea, not to be killed by weapons, but a better idea, which the US does not possess. Moshe, aka Rabid Rebbe http://rabidrebbe.com

by: Rackie Allie from: Liberia
October 15, 2013 5:06 AM
I am very excited to see that the US is concerned not only about its territory but also the world at large countering terrorist wherever they may be found.

If we can all work together to fight against terrorism we can make the world a better place for our children to live in.

I personally support the US actions against combating terrorist who don't have the fear of God in them. Long Live the United States of America.
In Response

by: todi from: Botswana
October 15, 2013 10:54 AM
Mr Eagle, I don't think there is any particular problem with model of cooperation you are proposing. However, there are number of problems;
1. Political will of the host nation
2. Capacity and capability of leading force to carry out such an operation
3. Security of the operation itself
4. The political backlash of being seen as American puppet
5. The benefit to the host nation (eg financial and infrastructure wise)

Most importantly, the "terrorism sector" has been taken over by rent-an-expert who are giving "expert analysis" based on crude and factually incorrect information. It is a serious area of concern, because had it not been their insistence that Al Shabab is a dying force may be we could have avoided the Westgate attacks. Feel free to contact me.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs