After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the United States of America implemented more stringent policies to counter terrorism, especially within its borders. Since the attack, the government has spent billions of dollars in funding programs that aim to annihilate jihad terrorists around the world. America’s policy on counterterrorism is founded on four principles: the US does not negotiate with terrorists, states that support terrorism must face sanctions and pressure to coerce them to change, efforts by other countries to fight terrorism must be enhanced, and terrorists must face justice for their offenses (Lee 63).
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Since the 9/11, the policy has changed tremendously with the enactment of the Patriot Act and the tasking of the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI) as a key participant in counterterrorism efforts. It is important for President Trump’s government to develop an innovative agenda to counter violent extremism, especially within the United States’ borders. Shifts should be made from community-based interventions to individualized interventions that target the sympathizers of terrorist groups (Lee 87). The policy has reduced cases of terrorism in the US, but failed to mitigate the problem in other parts of the world where terrorism has intensified with extremist groups gaining more followers.
The Spread of Terrorism
The US approach to counterterrorism through overhead drone strikes, Special Forces raids, and creating elite units of local forces to eliminate the leadership of extremist groups is not working (Nacos 65). The strategy worked for a limited time, but currently, extremist groups have become more dangerous. US policy on terror is counterproductive because instead of neutralizing terror groups, it has led to a rise in their commitment to launch more attacks and retaliate against the US (Gottlieb 55).
The pressure has rendered the groups more virulent. Terrorist groups have heightened violence in order to seek revenge for the attacks that the US has launched on Muslim countries and that have led to massive destruction of property and lives. International terror attacks on the US have decreased, and at the same time, lone-wolf terrorism has increased. Lone-wolf terrorism poses more threats than international terrorism because it is not restricted to Islamic terrorism, but extends to white supremacist (Marks and Kraft 42).
A study conducted by the federal Bureau of investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security revealed that white supremacists were responsible for more deaths than any other domestic extremist group (Kilcullen 39). Homegrown extremism is on the rise, mainly among white supremacists. Therefore, it is important for the federal government to enact legislation that creates more programs that focus more on countering domestic extremism.
Internationally, terror attacks are at an all-time high as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State compete for a higher following and supremacy. In countries such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, the two terror groups have gained more followers by launching attacks against the public (Nacos 73). In recent times, the groups have launched attacks in many countries, including the US. Other countries and cities that have been affected by the surge in terror attacks include Barcelona, London, England, France, Stockholm, Saint Petersburg, and Germany.
In April, 2017, fourteen people were killed by an attacker affiliated with the ISIS. On June 3, 2017, seven people were killed and several others injured in an attack on the London Bridge that was launched by three terror suspects. On May 22, 2017, an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England became the target of terrorists. Twenty two people lost their lives during the incident and many others were injured. The suicide bomber who launched the attack was connected to a terror network.
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On Dec 19, 2016, a truck drove into people in Central Berlin, Germany, killing twelve and injuring forty eight (Kilcullen 48). ISIS took responsibility for the attack and said that the suspect was an affiliate of the group. The reason why the policy is spreading terrorism rather than containing is the failure by policymakers to realize that the problem goes beyond terror groups. The drone attacks and special operations favored by President Obama and the bombing and attacking of Islamic nations favored by President Bush only serve to intensify terrorism (Bentley and Holland 76).
The major causes of Muslim extremism include rigid social structures, limited economic opportunities, and the authoritarian rule favored by Islam. Islam is known for its rigid beliefs, attitudes, and principles that encourage extremist ideologies (Marks and Kraft 50). For instance, Muslims believe that Jihad (holy war) is commissioned by Allah, and therefore, they have to do everything in their power to fight for justice and equality (Kilcullen 52).
Moreover, they are very intolerant of differing views and opinions that do not align with the teachings of Islam. Poverty is one of the major causes of extremism. Most youths recruited by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, ISIS, and Ansar Dine cite lack of employment, education, housing, and security as some of the reasons why they join these organizations (Kilcullen 61). These groups promise them high compensation for their loyalty and participation in propagating their ideologies. Islam favors authoritarian rule, which is based on the belief that nations should be ruled by conquest (Marks and Kraft 56).
This explains the tyrannical rule in Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen. The policy ignores these factors in favor of combat, which has led to loss of lives and the loss of billions of dollars in the US and countries that host terrorist groups. For example, America’s ground wars in the Middle East and Asia have led to massive destruction of property and infrastructure.
In Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia, the Islamic State and Al-Qaida have increased their membership despite the United State’s intensified drone strikes against their leaders. Critics have criticized the counterterrorism policy because though it might have reduced cases of terrorism on American soil, it has intensified terror attacks in other areas such as the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa (Kilcullen 95). The United States describes Yemen as one of the successes of its counterterrorism policy. However, evidence suggests otherwise because al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS are increasing their presence in the country (Marks and Kraft 67).
The Yemeni government called on the United States to re-assess its counterterrorism strategy in the country after a commando raid led to twenty five civilian deaths. Counterterrorism raids are not meant to harm innocent civilian, but target members of extremist groups.
In 2016 and 2017, twenty two cases of terror attacks have been reported in the US. Though they were on a small scale, they are proof that the counterterrorism policy is not terror-proof because adherents and sympathizers of extremist groups enter the US and launch attacks. For example, on October 31, 2017, a terrorist attack led to the death of eight people when an attacker drove a pickup truck into people walking on the street in New York City along the Hudson River.
The attack was described as the deadliest terror attack to occur in New York City since 9/11. A survey conducted by the Nation Institute and Center for Investigative Reporting between 2008 and 2016 revealed that 197 terrorism incidents were reported in the US (Marks and Kraft 65). The majority of these attacks were not reported in mainstream media because they were either non-fatal or the casualties were less than two. For example, on 27 April, 2014, a shooting attack in Skyway, Washington led to the death of one person (Kilcullen 84). Very few media outlets covered the incident. The United States’ borders are secure, but terrorists are within the US and pose threats to national security.
Radicalization is the greatest threat in the US that the counterterrorism policy does not address effectively. The policy majors on the neutralization of terrorist groups outside the US and the enhancement of border security. The internet is the major source of terrorist ideology and training that criminals are using to advance the ideals and the agenda of extremist groups (Lee 53). As mentioned earlier, the counterterrorism policy has improved border-security capabilities, information sharing between agencies, and enhanced the capabilities of the aviation and maritime industries.
These improvements have made it increasingly difficult for terrorists outside the US to attack. However, terror groups have turned to the internet for recruitment and the advancement of Islamic extremism (Nacos 68).
They are using online platforms to attract followers and radicalize their sympathizers. For Example, ISIS is using sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to post videos and hate messages aimed at recruiting new jihadists (Marks and Kraft 95). These platforms are being used to spread propaganda and extremist ideology. ISIS has in many instances posted violent videos on YouTube targeting impressionable young people who agree with extremist ideologies. It is important for the US to revise its policy in order to incorporate measures to counter online radicalization of individuals within the United States.
ISIS is one of the extremist groups that have taken advantage of social media to radicalize young people. For instance, the group’s media spokesperson, Muhammad al-Adnani, advised his followers to use creativity when opportunities to kill infidels arose. He advocated for methods such as running infidels over with vehicles, smashing their heads with rocks, and using knives to cut off their heads. As young people consume extremist content online, they become attracted to the jihad agenda (Nacos 77). This radicalization is evident from recent attacks that have involved low-tech terrorism.
The Christmas market attack in Berlin and the track attack in the city of New York are examples of the new methods that terrorist groups have adopted. They have abdicated suicide belts and booby-trapped cars, thus making counterterrorism initiatives difficult to implement (Nacos 82). The tactical shift has been achieved mainly through radicalization. The shift from networks and linkages to a group’s chain of command to anonymous online radicalization has made the combating of terrorism more difficult. In the past, counterterrorism agencies relied on the identification of networks to a group’s chain of command (Marks and Kraft 77). Currently, with the disintegration of the chain of command, it is difficult to track and capture terrorists who usually operate online.
The United States’ counterterrorism policy has been counterproductive because even though it has reduced cases of homeland terrorism, it has enhanced it in other parts of the world. Intensified attacks against extremist groups have increased their commitment and drive to retaliate against the US for attacking them and destroying lives. Al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have become more violent toward the public, and as a result, they have attracted a larger following.
The main challenge is addressing the radicalization that is taking place through the internet. The counterterrorism policy needs reform in order to incorporate measures to address the ongoing radicalization of individuals. First, the US needs to end outreach that is implemented by the FBI and law enforcement agencies as a strategy to end violent extremism. These agencies have held several meetings with leaders of the Muslim community in an effort to create awareness regarding the dangers of terrorism and the risks of radicalization. These meetings are ineffective because instead of fostering trust, it is promoting distrust in Muslim communities and a sense of victimization.
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Outreach is only conducted in Muslim communities to the exclusion of white nationalist and right-wing individuals. Radicalization is currently the greatest threat to homeland security. Counterterrorism efforts in the US single out Muslims as the greatest threats. It is important for the counterterrorism policy to reorient domestic efforts to counter extremisms toward individuals. The policy should focus on investigating individuals who sympathize with terrorist organizations. Finally, the policy should be reformed to introduce nationwide intervention programs. Individuals who promote the ideals of extremist groups should be investigated because they are key targets for radicalization.
Bentley, Michelle, and Jack Holland. Obama’s Foreign Policy: Ending the War on Terror. Routledge, 2013.
Gottlieb, Stuart. Debating Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Conflicting Perspectives on Causes, Contexts, and Responses. CQ Press, 2013.
Kilcullen, David. Blood Year: The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Lee, Newton. Counterterrorism and Cybersecurity: Total Information Awareness. Springer, 2015.
Marks, Edward, and Michael Kraft. U.S. Government Counterterrorism: A Guide to Who Does What. CRC Press, 2016.
Nacos, Brigitte L. Terror and Counterterrorism. Routledge, 2016.