The Serpent in Our Garden: Al-Qa'ida and the Long War
Authored by Colonel Brian M. Drinkwine. | January 2009
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), caused Americans to realize that our sense of invincibility had been shattered. This paper will identify al-Qa?ida and Salafi Jihadists as our enemy and will recommend new approaches to fighting terrorism. Colonel Brian Drinkwine will explore al-Qa?ida?s organization, leaders, doctrine, and their radical ideologies. It is argued that the war we must fight is one against Islamist transnational actors who openly engage in terrorism or support terrorism. It will highlight that our current national and military strategies to combat terrorism are inadequate to take on an ideologically emboldened transnational foe. It is emphasized that we must refocus our efforts and prepare to fight a war of several generations (long war), and several initiatives will be recommended to include development of a cogent grand national strategy. These recommendations are intended to assist future planners in the development of a grand national strategy and an integrated long war campaign plan aimed directly at al-Qa?ida, the al-Qa?ida Associated Movement, and Islamist terrorists and executed through the application of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of national power by an unified interagency effort in coordination with our multinational partners, international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and regional security organizations.
Terrorism has existed for centuries, and governments have struggled to counter the violent extremist threat within their midst. In the immediate days following the unprovoked attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 (9/11), President Bush and the majority of our prominent national leaders stressed the urgent need to go on the immediate offensive against the terrorists, deploy military forces, and promote democracy abroad. Now, going on 7 years in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), one can argue we have made credible tactical gains, but have fallen far short in defeating violent extremism as a threat to our way of life. Cooperation among the international community has resulted in genuine security improvements?particularly in disruption of terrorist organizations and finances, securing of borders with tighter security at points of entry, and the killing or capture of individuals of high value. We have seen greater cooperation among many countries and, internally within the United States, among the interagency organizations, to include some specific reforms. But despite these successes, significant challenges remain, and terror organizations like al-Qa?ida have adapted, are conducting transnational irregular warfare, and have grown stronger and more widespread than before the attacks of 9/11.1 The most recent National Intelligence Estimate judges that the U.S. homeland will continue to face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat, mainly from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, and that al-Qa?ida will remain the most serious threat.2 More important, the current administration?s approach to the war on terror has created more terrorists than it has eliminated, and anti-American sentiment across the world and throughout the Middle East has skyrocketed, serving to fuel dissent and inspire Muslims to join or openly support terror groups. I believe we have failed to understand the true enemy who opposes us and the allure and appeal that they hold for the people of Islam worldwide. Our misguided efforts at engaging in a ?war of ideas? have been clearly one-sided and not in our favor. Without a clear concept of what victory in a war on terror should look like, we will exhaust our resources, including our service men and women, in futility.
Our near enemy, al-Qa?ida, has been engaging in war for nearly 4 decades in order to achieve its overall strategic objective of a world-wide Islamic caliphate where the only law is shar?ia (Islamic law). Al-Qa?ida continues to evolve, has increased its global reach and appeal, and has inspired numerous other extremist groups while continuing to expand its worldwide network. Al-Qa?ida has been elevated to the status we would hold for an institution, not just the world?s most feared terrorist group. But it is neither invincible nor invulnerable, and its members have stumbled momentously more than once.
Today, our heroic military forces have fought tremendously and garnered numerous significant results and tactical victories on the operational fronts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, and Northeast Africa (the Horn of Africa), some of which are clearly irreversible gains. We have also gained greater insight into this elusive organization and now understand some of the cracks or fissures within its foundation. This newly found understanding and comprehension by experts in the field of study of terrorism, as well as our national leaders, has enlightened us to the simple fact that we must prepare to wage a long war against the Al-Qa?ida Associated Movement (AQAM) and Islamist terrorism. This is a war that will incorporate all elements of national power in a cogent and executable strategy as well as build and leverage multinational partnerships. It is also a war where the United States is well resourced but, at present, ill-prepared to lead and to conduct.
This strategic research project will concentrate on terrorism past, present, and future and will thoroughly examine al-Qa?ida, the correct adversary, and how to counter it with the development of a grand national strategy and long war approach. I will highlight al-Qa?ida?s history and evolution over time; its structure, leaders, and doctrine; and its radically motivated ideology within the context of greater Islam, Political Islamists (Islamism), and Sunni fundamentalist ideologies. Al-Qa?ida is leveraging an ongoing internal struggle within Islam that is not about liberation, but about revival of the religion, and that is a part of a larger Islamic social movement. We are not at war with Islam, but will need to wage war against organizations that use terror as a primary means to achieve their desired ends and use Islam as justification for their actions. These organizations are a direct threat against our core national security interests as well as those of our friends and partners world-wide. I will argue that the war we must fight is not a global war against terrorism, but a war against select transnational actors or states that overtly or covertly support terrorism within the global arena context and through new forms of warfare. I will highlight that our current national and military strategies to combat terrorism are inadequate to take on an ideologically emboldened transnational foe, al-Qa?ida, and the movement it inspires. I will emphasize that we must reassess, reprioritize, and refocus our efforts and prepare to fight a war of several decades, or quite possibly several generations (long war). To better prepare to wage the long war, I will recommend several initiatives, to include development of a cogent grand national strategy against Islamist terror organizations that identifies attainable objectives (strategic ends), allowing us to clearly envision victory and the conditions under which that victory will be achieved. My recommendations will not eliminate terror in the world, but are intended to assist future strategic and operational planners and policymakers in the development of a much needed grand national strategy and a comprehensive and integrated long war campaign plan (ILWCP) aimed directly at al-Qa?ida, the AQAM, and Islamist terrorists (jihadis) and executed through the combined and coordinated application of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of national power supported by a cohesive, unified interagency effort in coordination with our multinational partners, various international governmental organizations (IGOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and regional security organizations.
The Islamic world has for hundreds of years been one of turmoil and conflict, with its constituents psychologically battered and often disillusioned. Many governments and elitist rulers in the Middle East fail terribly at providing the basic needs?food, clean water, energy, employment, and medical support?to their populace. True changes at all levels, ruler to ruled, must occur in the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula if there is to be any chance of harmony or peace. A ?Winning Hearts and Minds Campaign? in the Middle East is an endeavor of several generations that requires nearly unlimited resources to earn the trust of Muslims or to overcome the suspicions they have of the West. This is a daunting prospect, when those same critical resources are needed at home for domestic programs or in other critical hotspots around the world. For al-Qa?ida and the salafi-jihadis to have been immutably defeated, their ideology will have to have been proven false, illicit, and in direct contradiction to the Qu?ran and Sunnah, and, more importantly, Muslims will have had to abandon their support to the salafi-jihadi terrorist organizations. If we and our international partners and Middle Eastern allies are to have any chance of winning, we will have had to orient the war through development of a grand national strategy and execute this war through an ILWCP.
The purpose of this research project was to argue the case that al-Qa?ida, its associated movement (AQAM), and salafi-jihadi Islamist terrorists are our correct enemies and that the United States will need to overhaul and rethink its long-term strategy, objectives, and capabilities to defeat these terrorist organizations. I argued that our current national and military strategies to combat terrorism have served us well, but are inadequate to wage a protracted war upon an ideological emboldened transnational foe with apocalyptic designs, and that we would be better served by preparing ourselves to fight a war of several generations (long war) against these enemies. I then made several recommendations to include the development of a cogent and relevant Grand National strategy for terrorism and a supporting integrated long-war campaign plan (ILWCP) to execute the strategy. Al-Qa?ida, the AQAM, and salafi-jihadi Islamist terrorists pose a very real and direct threat to our national security and to the homeland, and only through the execution of a terrorism-focused Grand National strategy and ILWCP and by the synchronization of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of national power through a unified interagency effort in partnership with our multinational partners, IGOs, NGOs, and regional security organizations can we achieve victory on our terms.
1. U.S. Department of State, A Strategic Assessment of Progress Against the Terrorist Threat, eJournal USA Online, April 2007, journal on-line, available from usinfo.state.gov/journals/itps/0507/ijpe/assessment.htm, accessed on March 20, 2008.
2. U.S. National Intelligence Council, National Intelligence Estimate, The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland, July 2007, pp. 3-4.