Linking entire Muslim populations with terrorism is incorrect, a US parliamentary panel was told on Wednesday, as experts also supported continuing US military engagement in Afghanistan as part of efforts to counter terrorism threats to the United States.
The hearing by the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representative, or the Lower House, was organised to assess the situation as to where the US fight against terrorism stands today, 15 years after the 9/11 events.
Political and war experts were invited as witnesses to give their assessment of the success and failure of US efforts to protect the homeland and deal with the jihadist ideology that is behind the global terrorism.
James Jeffery, former US Ambassador to Turkey and Iraq and now an analyst with a think-tank said that despite a decade of counterterrorist success after 9/11, the Arab Spring movements, though not triggered by extremist mentality, and collapsing of four military-party dictatorships, in Libya, Syria, Egypt and Yemen, opened the door not to moderate governance but to Islamic terrorist movements.
He said Muslim understood the nature of these threats and their roots. The Ambassador stated that linking entire Muslims populations with terrorism was no right. “We cannot generalize, linking entire Muslim populations with terrorists.
The former are our actual or potential allies. We will not win without them.”
Ambassador Jeffery said the United States should have acted sooner against ISIS in 2014 as it gained territory and an army, adding that the US should have never contemplated a military withdrawal from Afghanistan. “This military component might be less crucial than the region’s own development of antibodies against Islamic terror, but military operations can give the region the time needed to do so.”
Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President of RAND Corporation, a think-tank, said fifteen years of U.S. efforts to destroy the jihadist terrorist enterprise have not led to victory in the classic military sense as there have been both successes and failures in what will likely be an enduring task.
On the plus side, he said there had been no more attacks on the scale of 9/11 and none of the worst-case scenarios that post-9/11 extrapolations suggested. “Neither al Qaeda nor the Islamic State has become a mass movement.”
Jenkins said that the vast majority of Muslims express negative views of jihadist organisations, though a significant minority expresses favourable views of al Qaeda and, more recently, of the Islamic State.
He said the constellation of jihadist groups is not as meaningful as it appears to be, and many of these groups are the products of long-standing local grievances and conflicts that would continue if there were no al Qaeda or Islamic State.
He said there was no central command. “There are no joint operations. The groups operate autonomously, Jihadist ideology has become a conveyer of individual discontents.
Continuing calls on local terrorist supporters in the West to take action have thus far produced only a meagre response.”
Jenkins said that recent terrorist attacks in Europe and in the United States have also provoked a backlash, which right-wing extremists have exploited, raising the spectre of civil strife. In the US, the number of homegrown terrorists remains a fraction of the number seen in Europe and, while they created alarm, Americans were safer now than they were on 9/11. A personal crisis is the dominant attribute of America’s jihadis, he said.
On the minus side, the targets of the American campaign have survived U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Al Qaeda has survived intense U.S.-led campaigns for 15 years, and now the Islamic State has survived them for two years, he added.
He said the Taliban has been driven from power in Afghanistan, but it remains a formidable foe and will not be tamed. “The continued deployment of U.S. forces will be necessary to prevent both the Taliban from regaining control of much of Afghanistan and al Qaeda from making a comeback by riding the Taliban’s coattails.”
“The United States has come to realise that getting out of a conflict and region is difficult”, he said. “What many regard as a premature withdrawal from Iraq and the abandonment of Libya following the overthrow of Qaddafi arguably contributed to the current bloody conflicts in those countries.”
Lt. Col Bryan C. Price, a counterterrorism expert, in his testimony said that threats posed by jihadist terrorism have metastasized in ways few could have predicted after 9- 11. He said today the threat posed by jihadist terrorism is more geographically diffuse, decentralised, and unpredictable than it was on September 12, 2001.
Commenting on drone strikes, he said that while they provided tangible effects, they were not a “not a silver-bullet solution” to the terrorist problem. “They are not sufficient by themselves to defeat highly capable groups like alQa‘ida and the Islamic State.”
He said if the US drone strikes are made a cornerstone of the counterterrorism strategy moving forward without seriously investing in other areas, “we can expect to experience similar levels of terrorist violence, if not more.”