It was with awe, disbelief and shock that the world saw footage of the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001 when the planes-turned-missiles slammed into the World Trade Center towers and damaged the Pentagon. This ultimately resulted in the US declaring and waging a war on “terror” and the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, was eventually killed some 10 years later. But despite all the ‘achievements’ of the US-led coalition, the number of terrorist attacks each year has more than quadrupled in the decade since 9/11. Researchers suggest the US military interventions pursued as part of the West’s anti-al Qaeda ‘war on terror’ may have made terrorism worse. This state of affairs has given birth to the question that has global war on terrorism failed?
Launched in the aftermath of tragic events of 9/11, the global war on terror was aimed at eliminating the al-Qaeda leadership that was reportedly hiding in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban regime. The US-led coalition virtually sent Afghanistan to the Stone Age through carpet bombing and unceasing military offensives, and despite the ouster of the Taliban and the killing of Osama bin Laden, the war on terror never really ended. The invasion of Iraq, close on the heels of the Afghan war, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent withdrawal without leaving behind a stable government or a trained military force created a void that was quickly filled by the self-styled Islamic State (IS). And this militant outfit with its capacity to launch attack anywhere in the world has emerged as the most dreadful monster of the modern times.
The Arab Spring, which was actively and vigorously supported by the West, led to the overthrow of Gaddafi and again another vacuum was formed. The same Arab Spring aimed to dethrone Assad in Syria, with Western support, resulting in the present civil war that has been going on for the last five years causing untold sufferings and immense casualties. The instability in West Asia, largely supported by the Western world, has been responsible for the rise of ISIS a monstrous outfit that is increasingly becoming a formidable challenge for the world power.
The recent terrorist strikes in Paris and Brussels are stark reminders of the worldwide reach of the outfit. However, what is being consistently ignored by the world are the almost regular strikes resulting in casualties in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Yemen (which is embroiled in its own civil war) and countries in Africa. In every case, there is an intelligence failure and the security forces begin to hunt for perpetrators and collaborators after the incident. The international press tends to give more importance to strikes in Western nations rather than the others.
The battle against the ISIS has drawn in air power from not only NATO nations but also from Russia, which only recently has withdrawn part of its forces from Syria. Iran also has moved in ground troops to support the Syrian regime. The massive air raids may have weakened the ISIS, but in no manner they could diminish its fighting capability and brutality. It has only boosted its resolve to strike back where it hurts the most — the heartland of Europe.
The striking power of the ISIS in Europe is possible due to the religious-cultural divide which exists on the continent. In Europe, there is a clear dividing line between Muslims and non-Muslims and in most major cities there are demarcated zones — or ghettos — dominated by Muslims where even the local police and emergency services fear to enter. This divide and the high unemployment rates within the community force many into a world of crime and subsequently into the ISIS fold.
Europe provides the largest contribution of foreign fighters for the organization outside the Arabian Peninsula. There are claims that the ISIS has created a specially trained force of European fighters to target various parts of the continent by multiple attacks thus causing panic, lockdowns and compelling the countries to enhance security measures.
This end state is what ISIS desires as it results in Islamophobia and further alienates the community bringing in more supporters. The ongoing war in West Asia has forced millions to leave their homes seeking safety and security. A number of them have made the perilous crossing into Europe, at the cost of their lives and life savings, and are now stranded in refugee camps. Terrorist strikes in Europe, fear of possible militant supporters posing as refugees and economic slowdowns have resulted in most nations refusing to accept them, forcing many to return. Disillusioned by the treatment received in the West and penniless on return, they would become ideal recruits of terrorist groups.
Recent history clearly indicates that the US and its allies commence operations to destroy terrorist networks, get embroiled in wars they are incapable of winning, and then seek to pull out, creating a vacuum. In Afghanistan, they removed the Taliban, but never destroyed them. The group has resurfaced and with such an intensity that the US and the Afghan government want to engage them in talks because all their offensives have brought nothing but torment for the common Afghans.
The US realizes that it could be involved for eternity, decides to withdraw leaving Afghanistan still not militarily capable. They are willing to ditch Afghanistan as the Taliban presently do not threaten them. However, as the group grows stronger and desires an international status, it becomes bolder and expands its operations targeting humanity spread over vast regions including the western world. Al-Qaeda, once demolished, has regrouped in Yemen and is again the target of Western air power.
If the West continues to support groups battling to remove Assad, it would create another void, as the groups are splintered, belong to different ethnic backgrounds and thus would be unwilling to support a single leader. They would, even if Assad is removed, be forced to disband the existing military and re-create. There would also be a struggle for power, causing vacuums into which another terrorist group could wade in.
Thus there is a strong need to re-assess the war on terror and the successes or gains that it has provided. Leaving behind vacuums — post-intervention — would only enable rise of terrorist groups. Terrorist attacks, not just Europe but everywhere in the world, are tantamount to attacking humanity and thus they need to be countered. Any terrorist group that appears to be small or localized today may grow in size and power in the years ahead and threaten regions or even nations. Thus the world needs to take strong exception to any country supporting or funding such groups and immediately impose economic sanctions and curtail military aid.
The world should act now, before terrorism spreads its tentacles far and wide, causing nations to build walls and wire fences to ensure security, alienating religions and communities, creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust resulting in curtailing of liberties and human rights. Each group desires to acquire a dirty bomb and the day is not far when one of them could obtain it. Therefore, hesitating in action or ignoring today’s warning signs could be catastrophic for the future.