Encyclopedia > War on Terror

  Article Content

War on Terrorism

Redirected from War on Terror

Immediately following and in response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, the United States government announced its intentions to begin a "War on Terrorism" (or "War on Terror"), a protracted struggle against terrorists and states that aid terrorists. US-led military forces invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq under the rubric of the War on Terrorism.

Many governments have pledged their support for the initiative. The US has received military help from the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, India the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Japan, Pakistan, and France, among others. The "War on Terrorism" quickly became the dominant framework in which international relations were analyzed, supplanting the old Cold War and in some cases the War on Drugs. Many pre-existing disputes were re-cast in terms of the War on Terrorism, including Plan Colombia[?] and the Colombian civil war; the United States' diplomatic and military disputes with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea; the war between Russia and Chechnya; and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two largest campaigns undertaken as part of the War have been those in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although many countries are involved, making arrests of suspected terrorists, freezing bank accounts and participating in military action, the war is overwhelmingly viewed as an American initiative. There was a previous War on Terrorism declared during the 1980s, by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, though that one never gained as widespread support or traction as the later one.

Table of contents

Overall Strategy

The United States has based its counter-terrorist strategy on several steps:

  • Denial of safe havens in which terrorists can train and equip members
  • Restriction of funding of terrorist organizations
  • Degradation of terrorist networks by capturing and/or killing intermediate leaders
  • Detention of suspected and known terrorists. See the section below for further details
  • Obtaining information, through various techniques, allegedly including torture, from captured terrorists of other members of their organization, training sites, methods, and funding
  • Expanding and improving efficiency of intelligence capabilities and foreign and domestic policing

In doing so, the strategy is not very different from successful counter-guerrilla operations, such as Malaysia in the 1950s. There is a fine distinction between guerrilla operations and terrorist operations. Many guerrilla organizations, such as the Zionist terrorist group known as the Irgun in British-Mandated Palestine, and the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) during the Algerian Civil War[?], and the Viet Cong, included urban terrorism as part of their overall strategy.

Denial of safe havens involves a fairly large military force; however, as in Afghanistan in 2002, once the major safe haven areas are overrun, the large-scale forces can be withdrawn and special forces, such as U.S. Special Operations Forces or the British Special Air Service (SAS), operate more effectively.

In addition, the U.S. Army is involved in increasingly large civil affairs programs in Afghanistan to provide employment for Afghans and to reduce sympathy in the civilian population for parties the United States has designated as terrorist.

The U.S. strategy faces several obstacles:

  • Terrorist groups can continue to operate, albeit at a less-sophisticated scale
  • The strengths of American intelligence gathering are signal intelligence and photo intelligence gathering. Organizations that avoid use of cellular phones and radios and rely on couriers have a lower profile. On the other hand, such organizations also have a slower planning and reaction time.
  • Political opposition to American policies inside countries in which terrorists operate, as in Pakistan, where Al-Qaida and the Taliban have supporters who share religious or ethnic affiliations.
  • Legal opposition to American methods of detaining suspected terrorists.

Interrogation methods

A Washington Post investigation published on December 26, 2002 quotes anonymous CIA and other government officials who claim that US military and CIA personnel employ physical coercion during their interrogation of suspects and that US officials believe these practices are necessary and unavoidable in light of the September 11th terrorist attacks. They state that CIA is using "stress and duress" techniques at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, a base leased from Britain at Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean, and numerous other secret facilities worldwide.

The CIA reportedly transfers suspects, along with a list of questions, to foreign intelligence services of countries routinely criticized by the US Department of State for torturing suspects, where they are alleged to be severely tortured with the assent and encouragement of the United States. These countries include Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Syria. One official stated, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."

Anonymous sources quoted in the Washington Post article have stated that those held in the CIA detention center "are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles," and are duct-taped to stretchers for transport. The Post continues that according to Americans with direct knowledge and others who have witnessed the treatment, that suspects are often beat-up and confined in tiny rooms and are also blindfolded and handcuffed following arrest. Later, suspects are sometimes "held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights" and loud noises. The Post article goes on to say that national security officials suggested that pain killers, on at least one occasion, were "used selectively" to treat a detainee that was shot in the groin during apprehension.

Nevertheless, the Post admits that there is no direct evidence that the US government is mistreating prisoners. Additionally, as reported by Reuters, the U.S. military denied these allegations and stated that the Post's article was "false on several points". [1] (http://www.afghannews.net/news.php?topicid=753)

National security officials interviewed for the investigation defended the use of such techniques as necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks. As one official put it, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job."

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch called on the United States to respond to these reports by publicly denouncing the use of torture. In response to reports that some of the evidence that Colin Powell intended to present against Iraq to the United Nations was derived from torture, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Powell, asking him to use that speech as an opportunity to condemn any use of torture to gather intelligence. [2] (http://hrw.org/press/2003/02/powell20303.htm)

The techniques reported to be used are similar to techniques that have been used by the Soviet Union on captured CIA operatives, according to accounts by retired CIA agents. In addition, similar techniques were used by French security services in the Algerian War of Independence and in the suppression of the Secret Army Organization in the 1960s. Ethically, such techniques are seen by human rights advocates as deplorable, but interrogators see them as necessary when information must be gained from a reluctant subject.

Military/Diplomatic Campaigns


Main article: U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

The first target was Afghanistan and the Al-Qaida terrorist organisation based therein. The US demanded that the Taliban government extradite Saudi exile and Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden with no preconditions. The Taliban responded first by asking to see proof that bin Laden was behind the attacks. When the United States refused and instead threatened the Taliban with military action, the Taliban offered to extradite bin Laden to Pakistan, where he could be tried under Islamic law. This offer too was refused. The United States and other western nations then led an attack along with local Afghan anti-Taliban forces, including several local warlords and the Northern Alliance. Many of the Afghani groups had held power before the Taliban came to power, and ruled with human rights records similar to the Taliban. This effort succeeded in removing the Taliban from power. Most Taliban did not fight they simply went back to their tribe. The weak government in Kabul, the well armed Warlords and the hidden Taliban did not change the situation, that Afghanistan is a unstable country. To date, Osama bin Laden has not been arrested or killed. His words have reportedly come to light from time to time, often via Arabic media outlets, and usually in support of anti-western atrocities, such as the bombing in Bali and Tunisia.

On March 2, 2003, authorities in Pakistan captured Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Naming of the "Axis of Evil"

Main Article Axis of Evil

George W. Bush named Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the "Axis of Evil". In US political rhetoric these are called "rogue states" who do not respect international law and often have programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. The use of the word "axis" was more rhetorical than literal; no assertions have been made that Iran, Iraq, or North Korea are in any way politically allied. The statement has become a lightning rod for opposition to the War on Terrorism and to George W. Bush in particular. Interestingly, the inclusion of Korea in the "Axis of Evil" subtly served to politically distance the US from the perception that the "war on terror" was a codephrase for a "war against Islam". (For more on opposition, see below.)


Main article: U.S. plan to invade Iraq

The United States and Iraq have been involved in military and diplomatic disputes since the Gulf War in 1990-91, continuing through the remainder of George H. W. Bush.'s presidency, Bill Clinton's presidency and the beginning of George W. Bush's presidency. On September 4, 2002, George W. Bush announced the Bush Doctrine that the United States had the right to launch a preemptive military strike at any nation that could put weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists. He sought and obtained congressional approval for a strike against Iraq.

Intensive negotiations began with other members of the United Nations Security Council, especially the three permanent members of the Council with veto power, Russia, China, and France, which are known to have reservations about an invasion of Iraq. On November 8, 2002, The UN Security Council unanimously passed a new resolution. The resolution calls for Iraq to disarm or face tough consequences. On November 18, UN weapons inspectors returned to Iraq for the first time in four years. In early December, 2002, Iraq filed a 12,000-page weapons declaration with the UN. After reviewing the document, the U.S., Britain, France and other countries felt that the declaration failed to account for all of Iraq's chemical and biological agents.

On January 16, 2003 U.N. inspectors discovered 11 empty 122 mm chemical warhead components not previously declared by Iraq. Iraq dismissed the warheads as old weapons that had been packed away and forgotten. After performing tests on the warheads, U.N. inspectors believe that they were new. While the warheads are evidence of an Iraqi weapons program, they may not amount to a "smoking gun", according to U.S. officials, unless some sort of chemical agent is also detected. U.N. inspectors also searched the homes of several Iraqi scientists.

Although this is seen by the US government's administration as part of the War on Terrorism, some United States congressman, especially members of the Democratic Party, have counterposed the War on Iraq with the War on Terrorism, suggesting that the former would draw the focus from the latter. This appears to not be the case, considering that major operations and arrests continue to take place all over the world as part of the War on Terrorism. Newsweek conducted a poll after the 2002 elections and found that a majority claimed that this played a large part in the Republican's historic victory during the elections.

Despite attempts by the CIA and US administration, certain Republican politicians and the government of Israel to prove one, some critics claim that there is no demonstrable link between the Iraqi government and any terrorist group. Israel has claimed that it is in possession of documents linking Saddam to terrorist groups in the region. In 2002, hundreds of documents were turned over to the news media and the US government that detail Iraq's support of suicide bombers, but some remain skeptical. Israel has also claimed that a terrorist cell that was captured in September of 2002 not only had links to Iraq, but actually received training there. Indeed, to the fundamentalist brand of Islam that al-Qaida propagates, the secular government of Iraq is clearly anathema. Around the world, the threats to Iraq from the US and Britain have led to a rise in scepticism over the motives for invasion and the "war" in general.

In early 2003, CIA director George Tenet reported that an al-Qaida cell is operating inside Baghdad.

North Korea

Main article: George W. Bush administration policy toward North Korea

In October 2002 North Korea announced that it was running a nuclear weapon development program, in violation of treaties, and said they would be willing to negotiate a new position with the United States. The response from the United States government has been muted; they have stated that North Korea is not as great a danger as Iraq, and do not seem to be willing to pursue the interventionist policy they are advocating for in Iraq.


Apart from mentioning the nation as part of the "axis of evil", the Bush administration has not said much about dealing with Iran. However, there has been speculation about the administrations plans, and Iran is seen by some as 'next on the list' -- both because of its "axis of evil" status and its geopolitical relationship with Iraq.

Pankisi Gorge (Georgia)

Main article: War on Terrorism: Pankisi Gorge

In February 2002, the U.S. sent approximately two hundred Special Operations Forces troops to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to train Georgian troops to fight rebels from the breakaway Russian province Chechnya, crossing the border for safe haven in their war with Russia. This move drew protests from many Russians, who believed that Georgia should remain within the Russian sphere of influence, and not the United States'. On March 1, 2002, over domestic outcry, Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze[?] in Kazakhstan and pledged his support for the American military initiative.


Main article: War on Terrorism: Yemen

The Bush Administration approved sending about 100 Special Operations forces to Yemen, a power base for Al-Qaida. The Special Operations forces, along with the CIA, are engaged in targetted attacks on suspected Al-Qaida members, especially in the regions of Yemen bordering Saudi Arabia, which are not well-controlled by the central Yemeni authorities.


Main article: War on Terrorism: Philippines[?]

In January 2002, a force approximately 1,000 strong was sent to assist Philippine forces. About 600 troops, including 160 Special Operations forces, remain training forces in the Philippines to combat Abu Sayyaf on Basilan[?]. On October 2, 2002, a bomb in Zamboanga killed a U.S. Army Special Forces master sergeant and two civilians. In October 2002 additional Zamboanga bombings killed six and wounded 200. In February 2003, the U.S. sent approximately 1700 soldiers to the Philippines to engage in active combat against Abu Sayyaf, as opposed to training.


Main Article: War on Terrorism: Indonesia[?]

Near the end of 2001, Congress relaxed restrictions put into place in 1999 against the U.S. training of Indonesian forces because of human rights abuses in East Timor. In October 2002 the Bali car bombing killed and wounded hundreds of civilians, the majority of which were foreign tourists.

Detentions at Guantanamo Bay

Many people captured in the military conflict in Afghanistan have been detained at a facility known as Camp X-ray at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and have been denied rights usually granted to POWs under the Geneva convention. (See Camp X-ray for further details.)

U.S. Domestic Initiatives

A $40 billion emergency spending bill was quickly passed by the United States legislature, and an additional $20 billion bail-out of the airline industry was also passed. Investigations have been started through many branches of many governments, pursuing tens of thousands of tips. Thousands of people have being detained, arrested, and/or questioned. Many of those targeted by the Bush administration have been secretly detained, and have been denied access to an attorney. Among those secretly detained are U.S. citizens. For more, see September_11,_2001_Terrorist_Attack/Detentions. The Justice Department launched a Special Registration procedure for certain male non-citizens in the US, requiring them to register in person at INS offices.

Laws have been passed curtailing civil liberties in the United States, to make it easier for the government to spy on what's happening within the country, notably the USA PATRIOT Act. The Bush administration launched an unprecedented and sweeping initiative in early 2002 with the creation of the Information Awareness Office, designed to collect, index, and consolidate all available information on everyone in a central repository for perusal by the United States government. The office is headed by John Poindexter, who was National Security Advisor under Ronald Reagan and a key figure in the Iran-Contra Affair.

Various government bureaucracies which handled security and military functions were reorganized. Most notably, the Office of Homeland Security was created to coordinate "homeland security" efforts in the largest reorganization of the US federal government since the creation of the Pentagon. There was a proposal to create an Office of Strategic Influence for the purpose of coordinating propaganda efforts, but it was cancelled due to negative reactions. For the first time ever, the Bush administration implemented the Continuity of Operations Plan (or Continuity of Government) to create a shadow government to ensure the executive branch of the U.S. government would be able to continue in catastrophic circumstances.

The Bush administration is also considering asking for even broader, sweeping powers that would restrict civil liberties in the United States even more significantly. Among the ideas under consideration are the implementation of secret trials and broadened powers to spy on Americans. [3] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42267-2003Feb7)

U.S. Citizens Overseas

Overturning previous regulations which prevented the CIA from operating against US citizens, President Bush has granted the CIA broad authority to secretly assassinate U.S. citizens (in addition to anyone else) anywhere in the world if the CIA thinks that they are working for Al Qaida. The individuals in question need not be tried or convicted in any court of law, or even formally charged in order for them to be targeted for assassination. [4] (http://www.theolympian.com/home/news/20021204/frontpage/20780.shtml)

Opposition to the "War on Terrorism"

Initial opposition to the War on Terrorism was limited in the United States and Europe. On September 14, when the United States House of Representatives voted on a bill authorizing the President of the United States to use force in the War on Terrorism, there was only one dissenting vote--Representative Barbara Lee[?] of California. Much of the opposition that existed came from the long-standing peace movement as well as the anti- or alternative globalization movement (e.g. the Independent Media Center broadened its focus from globalization and corporations to militarization). The leadership of the German Green Party, known for its pacifist principles, supported the attack, but condemned the use of cluster bombs. This support led to an internal division within the party and a confidence vote called by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, in which he retained the support of enough Greens to stay on. Those Greens who voted against the government were later punished by being removed from the party list in the 2002 elections. Similar internal divisions arose in the United States political left, with some prominent opponents of the Vietnam War, like Christopher Hitchens, supporting the War on Terrorism. However, many more veterans of the Vietnam War have come out against the war against Iraqis.

Over time, opposition to the War has grown across the US and Europe and began to take form in mass protests. There have been street protests against the War on Terrorism in general or war on Iraq in specific in many major cities in the U.S. and other nations, many of them the largest anti-war protests since the Vietnam War. On the 28th of September 2002, 450,000 people rallied against the War on the streets of London, representing diverse political, religious and other groups. This was at a time when public feeling in Britain against a war was running high, with a clear majority in the polls. On the 26th of October 2002, protesters joined on the all in Washington D.C., the area adjacent to the highest offices of government. While the Park Services no longer makes estimates regarding the size of protests on the Mall, the Washington Post estimated about 100,000 people attended, quoting police and park officials as saying that this anti-war protest may have been the largest since the Vietnam War. In contrast to other recent protests, in which protesters reported being violently attacked by police or security forces, protesters in this action were evidently permitted to speak and assemble more freely. On the same day protest rallies also took place in Mexico, Japan, Spain, Germany, South Korea, Belgium and Australia.

U.S. and European critics of the "War on terror" make many different arguments in their opposition to the War. Some argue that the War unjustly results in the deaths of non-combatants ("collateral damage"). An alternate version of this argument is that the War is being fought in a way intended to minimize deaths to allied soldiers without regard to the effect on non-combatants. (See, e.g., Ten Reasons Why Women Should Oppose the "War on Terrorism" (http://war-times.org/pdf/Women%20Leaflet.pdf)) Another prevalent theme in opposition literature is that the War is "sowing the seeds of future terrorism and violence" by creating conditions of poverty and desperation. ( Artists' petition against the war (http://www.douglaslain.com/aawii)) Many believe that the interrogation methods employed by the CIA violate international conventions against torture.

A common analysis is that the War is being fought "to establish a new political framework within which [the US] will exert hegemonic control." (World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board (http://www.anti-war.org/stories.php?story=01/10/17/9955066)) Many say the US seeks to do this by controlling access to oil or oil pipelines. Similarly, many argue that the War is being fought to benefit domestic political allies of the Bush administration, especially arms manufacturers.

Many opponents of the war focus on the domestic aspects, complaining that the government is systematically removing civil liberties from the population or engaging in racial profiling. Other criticisms of domestic policy are focused on the individuals given leadership roles in War on Terrorism-related posts. In November 2002, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was appointed as the chairman of the independent panel investigating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America. His appointment led to widespread criticism, mainly because he is wanted by France, Spain, Chile, and Argentina for questioning in connection with war crimes he allegedly had knowledge of and directed while serving as Secretary of State during the Nixon and Ford administrations. John Poindexter was appointed head of the Information Awareness Office (IAO). Poindexter's qualifications as head of the IAO have been widely questioned on grounds of personal integrity, as he was convicted on five felony counts of lying to Congress and destroying and altering evidence related to the Iran-Contra Affair.

Others emphasize the perceived stupidity of the leaders of the War on Terrrorism, especially George W. Bush. These critics point to Bush's dichotomies (e.g. good versus evil, with us or against us) as simplistic, and often criticize Bush for his verbal miscues.

The opposition movement in many majority-Muslim countries started earlier than in most Western countries. In Pakistan, there was immediate opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan, especially in the border regions near Afghanistan, where there are strong ties to the Pashto population in Afghanistan. When Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf chose to ally himself with the U.S. campaign, many Islamist parties organized protests. In October, 2002, these parties made large gains in elections. In January, 2003, they organized nation-wide protests against the potential U.S. invasion of Iraq, largely in solidarity with their co-religionists.

See also: Current events, list of terrorist incidents

External links General War on Terrorism news:

Specific articles:


All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article

... (so named to honour the 110th anniversary of Ettore Bugatti's birth). Bugatti EB 110 The completed car was ready in 1990 but the unveiling was delayed until th ...

This page was created in 37.4 ms