SALHANI: Covert forces trumpet successes in war on terror

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Fighting terrorism necessitates a two-pronged approach - covert action by special forces and smart intelligence.

Covert action is absolutely central to winning the war on terrorism, just as it was the decisive instrument of the Cold War, said a senior U.S. intelligence official.

Covert action remains a critical instrument in the war on terror. And it is thanks to a number of covert operations that the United States, according to a high-ranking Pentagon official, has made headway in the war on terrorism.

But there is still a long way to go and real threats to counter, particularly as the Afghan insurgency has gotten significantly more intense in the past two years. In Pakistan, the problem has gotten worse over the past decade, substantially worse.

The tribal areas of western Pakistan remain the most significant strategic threat. However, the threats do not only emanate from traditional Muslim lands. According to a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, those threats “can emanate out of the United Kingdom and other parts of Western Europe, too.

“If you look at the number of threats over the past decade, you would see as many or more coming out of Europe as the greater Middle East,” said Michael Vickers, assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict at the U.S. Department of Defense.

Al Qaeda’s goals remain to catalyze an Islamist insurgency, to break up and/or prevent the formation of international coalitions arrayed against it, to exhaust and expel the West from Muslim lands, to overthrow apostate - or what they consider - illegitimate states and to establish a new caliphate, weaken the West and transform the international balance of power to favor this new caliphate. Rather large ambitions, to say the least,” said the U.S. intelligence official.

According to the U.S. official, not all is dire: America’s intelligence services have scored some major points in the global war on terrorism.

“We’ve had some notable successes over the past seven years, and some of these have been gradual and incremental but still quite significant,” Mr. Vickers said.

Mr. Vickers said the progress against international terrorism was mainly in an area in Southeast Asia referred to by the intelligence community as the “terrorist transit triangle.”

Progress in the war on terrorism was particularly strong in the Philippines, where headway was made in fighting the Abu Sayyaf group and the Jamaat al-Islamiyya.

Mr. Vickers is the senior civilian adviser to the defense secretary and the deputy defense secretary on the operational employment of future capabilities of special operations forces, strategic and conventional forces.

A former CIA operations officer, he was the principal strategist for the largest covert action program in the agency’s history - the paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan during the mid-1980s.

Mr. Vickers said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the start of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the United States began to practice “a revolutionary form of unconventional warfare.” This called for combining the U.S.’s most advanced weapons and surveillance equipment with special operations to eliminate the threat from al Qaeda.

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