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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs