- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

The military’s elite special operations community convened its annual meeting last week in Washington to discuss countering the terrorist threats facing America and its allies. Beginning with the working assumption that the United States faces a protracted, generations-long insurgency by loosely affiliated extremist Islamic groups led by al Qaeda, this community assessed how to proceed.

Time and again the message was: Be prepared for lethal acts of terrorism, always keeping in mind that the war has three fronts — on the ground, in cyberspace and in ideology.

Leaders speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s conference warned that without defeating insurgents on all three levels, terrorism will further spread along an arc stretching from Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa to Western Europe. In many of these countries, particularly in weak states such as Somalia or anarchic regions such along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, terrorists have established safe havens. In Europe they take advantage of immigrant enclaves and open societies to strike when and where they choose.

A comprehensive, focused and determined counteraction is essential to defeat this diffuse yet sustained threat. If the war on terrorism fails, the implications will be severe. Countries led by moderate Arab governments (such as Egypt and Jordan) or those with sizable Muslim minorities (such as Indonesia or Western Europe) will face growing civil unrest.

Such unrest leads to increased surveillance by threatened governments and restrictions on civil liberties, which will play into the hands of extremists who seek to sow dissension, polarization and distrust of government in democratic societies.

What are the strategic objectives of extremist Islamists? First, they seek to establish an Islamic Caliphate by stages. Following their initial defeat in Afghanistan, they are mounting an insurgency to return to power there.

Iraq is a second battleground, with the expulsion of American forces the first step leading to their eventual takeover. They also seek to extend their jihad to what they regard to be apostate Islamic regimes (such as Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia). The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority was also considered apostate, so Hamas’ recent victory in the Palestinian elections demonstrates it is not only through terrorism but also democratic means that Islamic extremists are able to exploit the electoral process to gain power.

Second, they also seek to destroy or punish their non-Muslim enemies. They call for destruction of Israel, with an Islamic state installed in its place.

Controlling Middle East oil resources will enable them to use the oil weapon to weaken Western adversaries. We already know how threats against the oil sector pushes up prices. Witness the increasing insurgent attacks against energy facilities and oil fields in the Nigerian Delta, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Access to weapons of mass destruction will enable insurgents to inflict utmost damage upon Europe and the United States.

What constitutes effective counteraction, according to the special operations community? It is here where special operations forces are crucial because of their deployment in small teams to what are often remote areas around the world where terrorists are believed to operate.

Special missions range from intelligence-gathering, reconnaissance, training foreign militaries in counterterrorism, to actual combat against terrorist groups.

In this context, successful counterterrorism requires a global response, consisting of a coalition of capable special operations forces. Commanders of the U.S. special operations forces and its Western allies outlined some of their mechanisms to synchronize activities — such as assigning units from one country to regions where it has the greatest specialty.

Also, they understand terrorist leaders must be destroyed everywhere they operate. Because leaders of groups such as al Qaeda operate clandestinely, they must be hunted by similarly organized military units. The terrorists’ safe havens must be eliminated and their supporting environments marginalized.

Here the special operations forces — as combat and civil affairs teams — are effective at applying their cultural and linguistic capabilities to surgically attack terrorists and secure villagers from the intimidating presence of insurgents in their midst.

Finally, the underlying conditions and grievances that give rise to such insurgencies must be resolved. To prevent terrorists from exploiting local conditions to advance their insurgency, early intervention is paramount, with all the instruments of statecraft, particularly diplomatic, foreign aid, and military measures employed to identify and carry out solutions to the root causes driving such insurgencies.

Such early intervention is the province of the complete special operations community, consisting of combat and civil affairs units, which offer the best practical solution to defeating the thicket of terrorism in all its forms. This is worth noting.

Joshua Sinai is program manager for terrorism studies at Logos Technologies in Arlington, Va.

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