By Paolo von Schirach
January 18, 2013
WASHINGTON – What’s the connection between the hostage taking and bloody (botched?) attempted rescue at a large gas facility in South Eastern Algeria and the US-led war in Afghanistan? The connection is that the fight against radical Islamist terrorists cannot be conducted as a conventional military campaign, as we are doing in Afghanistan.
Terror groups are all over
We are dealing with ideologically motivated loosely connected or entirely disconnected multinational groups, factions and cells that seem to share the objective of disrupting what they see as illegitimate governments, while attacking Western targets as they believe the West is supporting and propping the hated local rulers.
The rationale for the costly and prolonged war in Afghanistan was and is that we wanted to make sure that the Afghan territory would never again become a sanctuary for al Qaeda and its affiliates. This would have made sense if Afghanistan had been the only place in the world where they could go. Had this been the case, then it would have made sense to occupy Afghanistan, reorganize it and clean it up in order to deny al Qaeda any opportunity for re-entering.
But this is not the case. ”International Terror” is not an organized structure with a supreme command operating from a base. It is a loose transnational movement, with various groups engaging in different operations wherever they see fit. The most recent events in Algeria attest to this.
Invade every country in which terror groups operate?
If it were indeed the policy of the United States to deny al Qaeda and associates any and all bases of operations from which they can launch attacks, then –just as we have done in Afghanistan– America should occupy Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria and more in order to make sure that these countries cannot be used with impunity as bases by terror groups.
This approach is clearly impractical. Well, if it is impractical to invade Algeria in order to avoid another attack against an energy installation, what is the point of keeping a 68,000 strong force in Afghanistan? A much better approach would have been to reduce our presence there, focusing on what really matters to us: degrading and disrupting the operational capabilities of terror groups inclined to do us harm.
Terrorism is unfortunately like a nasty winter flu virus. It mutates and changes every year. No matter how much prevention we try, it still attacks us, with harmful consequences, especially for the most vulnerable. Hopefully one day this insane idea whereby terror methods are the best way to achieve noble goals of political change will go away.
Stay flexible, focus on counter terror
Between now and then America and its allies should stay prepared and flexible. We should maintain and upgrade our intelligence and special operations capabilities so that we can prevent and disrupt terror plots whenever possible, and react swiftly when necessary.
Keeping a large US occupation force in one particular country –Afghanistan– for more than a decade, while al Qaeda and associates are busy plotting and acting elsewhere, amounts to a really dumb way of allocating scarce resources.