The Terrorists Are Losing the War





Con Coughlin, writing in the Sunday Telegraph (London) (Dec. 28, 2003):

We are winning the war on terror. To some this statement might appear somewhat rash in view of how 2003 is drawing to a close. French flights to America cancelled because of a potential threat by al-Qaeda; a failed assassination attempt (the second this month) against President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan ; and yet more US troops killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq .

But just because al-Qaeda still possesses the ability to blow up the British consulate in Istanbul, or some such similar outrage, does not mean that we should draw the conclusion, as does Correlli Barnett, the eminent Second World War historian , writing in the latest edition of The Spectator, that the Islamic militants are winning.

While defeatism such as this undoubtedly lends encouragement to the disparate groups of Muslim extremists who believe they are engaged in a timeless jihad against the West, it is also based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the war on terror's stated objectives. Following the September 11 attacks, it was obvious that Washington would intensify its efforts to confront al-Qaeda. But in many respects this was merely an extension of the counter-terrorism campaign that had already been waged by the US against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network since the mid-1990s, when bin Laden first showed his willingness to attack American targets. When President Clinton left office in 2001, plans were well advanced for the Americans to assassinate bin Laden.

The most significant policy shift to emerge in Washington and, to a lesser extent, in London following the September 11 attacks was the introduction of the policy of pre-emption - hitting your enemies hard before they have the chance to hit you. President George W Bush first outlined this new policy in his address to Congress nine days after the September 11 attacks. He declared that apart from targeting terrorist groups that possessed "global reach", the US was determined to take on any country that provided "aid or safe haven to terrorism". In his State of the Union address in January 2002, he extended this policy to include "terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons".

When assessed on the basis of these criteria, then, the war on terror does not appear to be quite the calamity that some of its critics would have us believe. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan , which for many years provided a safe haven for bin Laden and his followers, has been decisively defeated, and bin Laden's operational infrastructure uprooted.

Many of bin Laden's key aides have been killed while others are in American custody - including some of those responsible for planning the September 11 attacks - and have revealed many details about al-Qaeda's methods and infrastructure to their interrogators. This information has resulted in many terror attacks being foiled, including a planned attack on the British embassy in Yemen and a repeat run of the September 11 attacks, with a hijacked civilian airliner set to crash into Las Vegas over Christmas. Foiled terrorist attacks, of course, do not generate as much publicity as those that are successful, but even within the narrow confines of the war against al-Qaeda, the past two years have hardly been a wash-out.


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