The American people need to prepare for a long-duration war against radical Muslims who are set to fight for 50 to 100 years to create an Islamist state in the region, a top Pentagon strategist in the war on terror says.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark O. Schissler said in an interview that the current strategy for fighting Islamists includes both military and ideological components that make it similar to the 40-year Cold War against communism.
"We're in a generational war. You can try and fight the enemy where they are and where they're attacking you, or prevent them and defend your own homeland," said Gen. Schissler, deputy director for the war on terrorism within the strategic plans office of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.
"But that's not enough to stop it. We've got to break the chain, and that's ... the ideology. We really need to show the errors in Islamist extremist thinking."
Gen. Schissler said he is concerned that Washington politics is weakening the will of the nation.
"I don't care about the politics. I care about people understanding the facts of what's our enemy is thinking about, what's our strategy to defeat them, and for [Americans] to understand that it will take a long fight, mostly because our enemy is committed to the long fight," he said. "They're absolutely committed to the 50-, 100-year plan."
"One of my concerns is how to maintain the American will, the public will over that duration," he said.
America's past wars lasted three to four years and sustaining support for longer wars "is very difficult," he said.
A Joint Staff briefing on the long war against terrorism states that since 2001, more than 3,000 al Qaeda terrorists are held in more than 100 nations, including 500 in Pakistan, while two-thirds of al Qaeda leaders are dead or in prison.
More than 17 terrorist attacks were disrupted since 2001, including three in the United States and two in Europe.
Al Qaeda's ultimate goal, the general said, is to set up an extremist "caliphate" stretching from western North Africa through southern Europe and along a path through the Middle East to Central and Southeast Asia.
"We're pretty convinced that the extremists are not ever going to give up the fight," Gen. Schissler said, noting that they are driven by the concept of jihad that makes it a religious duty to wage terrorist war.
The current war on terrorism requires fighting with ideas. In the Cold War, "we didn't beat ...the communists by militarily taking them to the battlefield," he said. "We took them to the intellectual battlefield and beat them against their ideas, the ideology of communism."
One goal is to disrupt al Qaeda efforts to "radicalize" young people ages 19 to 25 through educational efforts. Another objective is to assist moderate Muslims who see extremism as unacceptable.
Ultimately, Muslim scholars, clerics and other religious and government leaders will have to "take a stand," albeit one that carries grave risks because of the extremists' harsh methods, Gen. Schissler said.