The Global War of Attrition on Terrorism

It can be argued as to when the terrorists began their war against the world. It was certainly before the suicide-terrorist attacks of 9/11. Some say it began in 1983 Lebanon with the horrific suicide-terrorist attack on our Marine barracks, others say it began in 1979 Tehran with the unlawful invasion and seizure of the US Embassy. Some historians argue that it was much earlier during the Crusades of the 11th century or even at the beginning of the Muslim invasions of their neighbors dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries. Regardless of when the terrorists began their war against the rest of the world, the United States began fighting with a purpose after 9/11.

Our President called it the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).   He established objectives that were refined and spelled out in the 2006 publication National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism, also known as the NMSP-WOT:

1. Deny terrorists the resources they need to operate and survive
2. Enable partner nations to counter terrorism.
3. Deny WMD/E proliferation, recover and eliminate uncontrolled materials, and increase capacity for consequence management.
4. Defeat terrorists and their organizations.
5. Counter state and non-state support for terrorism in coordination with other U.S. Government agencies and partner nations
6. Contribute to the establishment of conditions that counter ideological support for terrorism.

The NMSP-WOT identifies the enemy as “extremists.”  The extremists oppose the right of people to live as they chose and they support the murder of ordinary people to advance their ideology.  Moderates or mainstreams are the folks who don’t support the extremists and oppose the killing of ordinary people.  Finally, terrorists are those who conduct acts of terrorism.  It goes on to stress that this is not a war between Islam and the West and then refers to some of the extremist organizations in the transnational movement responsible for the terrorism.

It even spells out an end state, sometimes referred to a better-state-of-peace:

“The national strategic aims are to defeat violent extremism as a threat to our way of life as a free and open society; and create a global environment inhospitable to violent extremists and all who support them.”

Victory is achieved only after those aims are met.

In 2006, Mitt Romney referred to the enemy as “jihadists” suggesting more than extreme behavior, but also extreme belief. His web site declared that victory will be achieve through a combination of American resolve, international effort, and the rejection of violence by moderate, modern, mainstream Muslims. He stressed that we need to support modern Muslim nations both militarily and diplomatically.

While the NMSP-WOT spells out a theoretic strategy that appears sound, the practice of the GWOT appears to be more of a war of attrition.  We seem to have so limited the definitions of the enemy that our fielded forces invest most of their time killing individuals, occasionally capturing or killing one of the ring-leaders and confusing that with strategic success.

Strategic effects are those that have far-reaching consequences with a cascading effect that result in paralysis of the enemy.  Killing foot soldiers, even a few of their regional leaders is not strategic if there is a continual supply of replacements.  The surge’s success in the Iraqi Theater of the GWOT worked well towards satisfying GWOT objectives 2 and 4.  But the results will be temporary if the terrorists/extremists/jihadists are allowed to rebuild their forces.  GWOT objectives 1, 5, and 6 are essential to achieving victory.

The seemingly endless supply of willing replacements for the attrited terrorists has to be denied.  Otherwise we will be forced to continue to kill them, one at a time, as they present themselves.  If that happens, this war of attrition could easily last the 100 years John McCain has talked about.

State and nonstate support to the terrorists has to become completely unprofitable.  Leaders must be convinced they will face the same consequences as Saddam Hussein and the former leaders of Afghanistan before they will alter their policies.  And ultimately, a counter ideology has to be established before victory can be won.

Shortly after 9/11, columnist Ann Coulter wrote the politically incorrect statement that we should, “invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” That statement generated a lot of criticism for her as it ironically blended the horrors of 9/11 with harsh Western humor and pointed out the realization that Western religious tolerance, which is sometimes credited with making us strong, may be our greatest weakness. Conversion to Christianity has always been by the word, not by the sword.

Since we obviously lack the national resolve to execute Ms Coulter’s suggestion, we must develop a different strategic course of action that renders terrorism equally unacceptable to the present supporters and future recruits of the violent extremists.

It just makes sense.

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