Saturday, February 24, 2007

Are We Losing the War on Terror?

I wrote this article Oct. 4 2006, all articles I wrote before that can only be read at War Pages on Wordpress

Are We Losing the War on Terror

Has the level of threat changed since 9/11?

By Liam Bailey

In the aftermath of 9/11 the onslaught against Afghanistan was understandable given the atrocious attacks on the World Trade Center and the strong links with the terror networks and training camps there, which explains the relatively weak resistance to the war by the international community. Afghanistan has been a NATO concern, but because other NATO countries are reluctant to make an endless commitment of troops to a large counterinsurgency operation, it is mainly U.K. troops that have taken this responsibility. Iraq, however, is a different story.

Iraq has turned into a major concern for the U.S., Britain and the world. Not only has it replaced Afghanistan as the main haven for al-Qaeda's violent jihad, it is the ultimate example of the aggressive invasion and lengthy occupation of a Muslim country. That this should have been by the U.S., Islam's biggest enemy, completes the outrage. The U.K.'s involvement has made it Islamic enemy number two. Iraq quickly became a self-sufficient recruiting machine for terror networks, as well as the training and battleground for brainwashed jihadis worldwide.

During the Afghan war, indefinite, secret detention at Guantanamo, without charge or the right to a trial, started turning Muslims everywhere against U.S. and U.K. foreign policy, showing our governments' bigotry against Muslims purely on the basis of their appearance, religion and location. The thousands of innocent Iraqis killed as "collateral damage" in the shock and awe bombing campaign continued to turn Muslims against the U.S. and U.K., as did all the atrocities committed by U.S. forces, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Fallujah, as well as who knows how many other smaller incidents.

The War on Terror has had some successes -- the U.S. Patriot Act abolished the bureaucratic prohibition on the sharing of intelligence among the various U.S. agencies at the front in the fight for homeland security. The removal of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan rid al-Qaeda of its state-based operational center, but the government installed by the U.S. has had to struggle against the warlords, and Taliban forces have reemerged. In Iraq, the defeat of Saddam Hussein by coalition forces rid the country and region of a vicious and cruel regime as well as eliminating a potential state sponsor of terrorism and a source of WMD. Continued instability, however, has made the country a breeding ground for extremism and anti-U.S./U.K. terrorism, as the recent report by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies showed.

The War on Terror has also led directly and indirectly to the capture or death of an estimated two-thirds of al-Qaeda's leadership, although its membership is estimated to have more than doubled from 20,000 in 2001 to the current 50,000. Little wonder then that the various countries involved in fighting the War on Terror alongside the U.S. have foiled some 15 serious terrorist attacks since 9/11. The War on Terror has also been successful in limiting the capabilities of al-Qaeda's leadership to communicate with its various cells and members around the world, so they can no longer safely use e-mail, mobile or satellite phones for fear of detection by the intelligence services; but they are still thought to be using anonymous internet chat rooms.

Despite these successes in the War on Terror there have been around 12 major terrorist attacks on Western interests, excluding attacks inside Iraq and Afghanistan. This is because the defeat of the Taliban and U.S. control of Afghanistan removed al-Qaeda's central base of operations. Almost immediately after 9/11 al-Qaeda became famous in most of the Muslim world and notorious throughout the non-Muslim world. The ensuing war in Afghanistan, the arguably illegal detention of Muslims at Guantanamo, the arguably illegal invasion of Iraq and subsequent pattern of atrocities committed by U.S. forces not only made it easier for the terror networks to radicalize and recruit but created a new threat of "self generating" terror cells. These have been radicalized by current events and inspired by al-Qaeda but are not part of the central chain of command, which makes it harder for our intelligence services to protect us from the expanding threat.

Perhaps the recent fertilizer plot was an example of this new threat, maybe Omar Khyam was in some way connected to al-Qaeda central command, but Jawad Akbar was the man coming up with all the plots and ideas. As we know from experience, if it was an al-Qaeda cell the targets would have been predisposed and the attack fully planned when the cell was alerted.

Although the number of terrorist attacks around the world fell from 426 in 2000 to 355 in 2001 and to 205 attacks in 2002, the jihadist propaganda inspired by the invasion of Afghanistan, then Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and support for Israel against Lebanon etc., has brought about a constant rise in terrorist attacks ever since. This is displayed in the U.S. annual patterns of terrorism reports, the 2003 patterns of global terrorism report contains, in the statistics section, a bar graph of the number of attacks each year from 1982-2003, which shows the number of attacks rising to 208 in 2003.

The biggest factor in the rise in terrorism, however, has been the Iraq war, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) statistics for 2004 the number of attacks rose dramatically to 651, attacks in Iraq also rose to 198 from 22 in 2003. NCTC figures for 2005 show an even more dramatic rise to 11,114 attacks, but the center had changed the way attacks were counted, so comparisons couldn't be made to previous years. The only way I could create such a comparison was to look at how terrorism was measured in 2004, the 2004 chronology by the NCTC counted only significant attacks, i.e., one or more fatalities or above $10,000 damage, fatalities or not, in figures for 2005 all attacks were counted, but in the statistics section a graph shows that the number of attacks involving one or more fatalities was 2,884, with attacks killing between two and four people at 1,614 in 2005. I therefore deem the comparable total for 2005 to be somewhere between the two figures.

Therefore, as our forces are still involved in heavy fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and between the two war zones, fierce gun battles, allied and non-combatant deaths and terrorist attacks happening daily, the Afghan and Iraq invasions must surely be deemed mistakes in the fight against extremism in its current form for homeland and global security. Unfortunately, things are also going wrong at home.

Consider U.S. failures in the months before 9/11, when its intelligence agencies noted a surge in intercepted "chatter" about an impending al-Qaeda attack in the spring and summer of 2001. In July 2001, a Phoenix, AZ, FBI agent issued a memo warning of al-Qaeda operatives enrolled or enrolling in U.S. flight training schools, and in August 2001, Zacarias Massaoui was arrested at a Minneapolis flight school. He had been asking how to get into the cockpit of a 747, and his sole interest in learning to steer the plane after takeoff caught the attention of the flight trainers.

Cold-War budget cuts meant U.S. intelligence didn't have the translators or the staff to cope with the surge in "chatter", meaning it was largely just that, and for the same reason an antiquated computer system left FBI analysts unable to send e-mails or link up field reports, like the Phoenix memo and the details of Massaoui's arrest. Also, U.S. government rules prohibiting the sharing of information between criminal enquiries and counter-intelligence investigations meant that the CIA didn't tell the FBI for months that two terrorists were in the country, who, in hindsight, were two of the 19 hijackers. It is clear to me that a lack of resources played a part in 9/11, which became the catalyst for conflict as Bush went to war on Islamic terrorism, starting with Afghanistan and finishing -- no one knows when or where.

The Afghan war cost the U.S. government $18.1 billion in its first fiscal year (2001-02), according to CRS (Congressional Research Service) figures. The war went well in its infancy, as evident in the reduced cost for FY2003, lower by $1.1 billion. The Iraq war began at a cost of $51 billion in its first fiscal year. U.S. war spending on Afghanistan continued to drop in line with coalition success in the country, at $15.1 billion in FY 2004, while Iraq, costing $77.3 billion, began a continuous rise. In FY 2005, U.S. Iraq spending rose to $87.3 billion and, for the first time since the conflict started, the Afghan war costs rose to $18.1 billion. Costs of both wars continue to rise; in the latest figures released by the CRS for FY2006 Iraq cost the U.S. $100.4 billion and Afghanistan cost $19.9 billion.

U.K. forces have fought alongside the U.S. in both wars since they began. Funding for U.K.'s involvement in the War on Terror comes from the "special reserve," according to Iraq analysis, corroborated by The Times and The Guardian, this reserve has been constantly increasing since the initial £1 billion pledged in the pre-budget report for 2002. In the 2003 budget another £2 billion was secured for the special reserve to cover "the full costs of the U.K.'s military obligations" in Iraq. Another £800 million in the pre-budget report for 2004 released later in 2003 brought the total to £3.8 billion, which rose to £4.32 billion with the £520 million pledged in the pre-budget report in late 2004. Another £380 million was pledged in the 2005 budget, followed by £580 million in the pre-budget report for 2006 later in the year and a further £800 million in this year's budget, bringing the total to £6.44 billion. The Guardian reported in its coverage of U.K. war spending that Gordon Brown had pledged an additional £135 million for MI5 in late 2005. An announcement coming after 7/7, pledging a fraction of the money Iraq has cost, to the only people who had any chance of stopping them, can easily be seen as too little too late.

The U.K. government, like the U.S. government, is spending the biggest proportion of its defense budget on two foreign wars, both for homeland security, and like the U.S. all the while, mistakes are being made inside the U.K. in the same fight for homeland security.

Take the year before the atrocious attacks of the July 7, 2005. According to the ISC (Intelligence and Security Committee) report (p18 of 52) into those terrible attacks, also from The Guardian, Siddeque Khan and Shazad Tanweer, two of the London bombers attended meetings with others under investigation by our security services in 2004. MI5 didn't seek to investigate or identify them or several other unidentified men at the meetings, although it is believed this would have been possible had the decision been taken to do so. This is because the man under investigation was not himself an "essential target," and U.K. intelligence at the time suggested the men's focus was training and insurgency operations in Pakistan. July 7 then lead to the mistaken shooting by the MET of Jean Charles De Menezes, and finally the joint failure of the MET and MI5, which led to one of the biggest media storm fiascos in the U.K.'s war against extremism, the Forest Gate raid.

So, who can say whether the money being spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars could have prevented these mistakes had it instead been funneled into U.K. police and intelligence agencies, but as a lack of resources was already a problem before 9/11, such high war costs can only have made things worse. The failure of MI5 to investigate two of the London bombers a year in advance was also put down to a lack of resources, and the many U.S. agencies that some senior military officials, like Gary Cheek, believe really hold the key to defeating terrorism also suffer from the same problem, so we can't help but connect this lack of resources where it matters, at home on both sides of the Atlantic, with the massive budget given to maintaining a war on two fronts, a war that after the early weeks began exacerbating the threat from global terrorism, while bearing a new "home-grown" or "self-generating" threat.

If our governments continue to take actions that unintentionally increase the risk, while the money spent on these actions weakens our defenses at home, one must wonder when the balance will be tipped in the terrorists' favor, if it hasn't been already.

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