Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2004 / 24 Elul, 5764

Andrew Apostolou

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America is winning an unprecedented war against a fanatical enemy | Hard though it is to judge, the United States appears to be winning the war against terrorism. The United States is certainly in a stronger position than it was on Sept. 10, 2001. The terrorists have lost their main base. From protected predators, they are now the hunted.

The United States has ousted Saddam Hussein's criminal regime, which while uninvolved in 9/11 was still a serial terrorism sponsor, and Libya is renouncing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The main setbacks have been in Iraq - the self-inflicted wound of torture at Abu Ghraib and the faltering response to the insurgencies. Yet while the headlines are grim and the casualties keep rising, significant progress is being made.

Depriving al-Qaeda of its Afghanistan sanctuary was a key early success, one that the terrorists neither anticipated nor planned for. The importance of Afghanistan for al-Qaeda was outlined in great detail by the 9/11 Commission. The camps were part of a permissive environment in which the terrorists could creatively elaborate plans for mass murder.

Thanks to an ingenious U.S.-led military campaign, al-Qaeda's ability to recruit and train has been gravely damaged.

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During the 1990s, 20,000 men passed through al-Qaeda's Afghan training camps, the equivalent of four U.S. Army combat brigades. Most received rudimentary paramilitary training rather than learning advanced terrorism skills, but all were intended to be the core of a global jihad movement.

Many are now dead. Some are in prison. Others have returned home to commit acts of terrorism, such as in Saudi Arabia, alienating those who had previously sympathized with them.

For all the cliches about how anything the United States does ``only makes matters worse,'' the confinement of much of al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions makes planning, communicating and operating more difficult for them. These areas are remote, inaccessible and have rarely been governed. Clearing the terrorists out will take years of patient counter-insurgency work, a mixture of politics and targeted security operations.

Better intelligence leads every few months to significant arrests. The capture in Pakistan of Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan in July 2004, an al-Qaeda communications specialist, was such a breakthrough. Khan was in touch with al-Qaeda leadership elements through a system of couriers. His detention has already enabled one European country to neutralize a dangerous al-Qaeda cell.

The picture in Iraq is more mixed. The conventional victory was swift, the political triumph slower to materialize. Still, in just over a year Iraq introduced a new currency; adopted a progressive and tolerant interim constitution, the Transitional Administrative Law; and held indirect elections for a national council.

Thwarting the United States in Iraq is a skillful insurgency that emerged with unexpected craft from the inept and defeated Iraqi army. Like al-Qaeda, the remnants of Saddam's regime, amply assisted by foreign jihadis, have shown themselves to be a smart and adaptive enemy. Iraqi Shi'a radicals, with Iranian support, have made up for their lack of military skill by hiding behind civilians and mosques.

The crimes of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib have besmirched the image of the United States and angered Iraqis. Yet the 11 inquiries held to date, and the swift trials of U.S. soldiers, have been a lesson in transparency to the region.

Much remains to be done against an enemy unlike any other that the United States has faced. This war is not law enforcement, nor low-level warfare, nor counter-insurgency, nor a conventional war, but a shifting mixture of them all. Vanquishing the terrorists globally and the insurgents in Iraq will be a slow process.

For the moment, however, the United States is successfully keeping the terrorists on the run, forcing them to spend as much time evading the long arm of U.S. retribution as they devote to planning and recruiting.

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Andrew Apostolou is Director of Research for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies , a nonpartisan Washington-based policy institute focusing on terrorism. Comment by clicking here.


06/04/04: Post-World War II lessons show building Iraqi democracy is vital

© 2004, Andrew Apostolou