New York City Police Deputy Chief Commissioner John Miller said, “He did this in the name of ISIS and along with other items recovered at the scene were some notes that indicate that.” Other than saying that some of the items had “Arabic writing,” Miller did not go into any detail, nor did he say how Saipov went undetected by law enforcement, or what process turned Saipov into a lone wolf violent extremist inspired by the Islamic State’s ideology.
On his visit to Iraq last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillersonpraised recent gains over the Islamic State, stating that the “liberations of Hawija and Tal Afar were important victories and we applaud the efforts on the part on the Iraqi forces to defeat Daesh.” However, just as ISIS militarily lost strategic territory in Iraq and Syria, there have been ISIS-inspired attacks in Spain, Niger, the Philippines and Afghanistan.Considering these events, the U.S. military presence in Niger to work against ISIS there, the ongoing conflict in Yemen and now the New York attack, it is crucial to ask questions about the new U.S. administration’s plans for fighting terrorism. Specifically, it is important to ascertain what President Donald Trump‘s counterterrorism policy is and what policy guidelines the White House has given, if any, to the State Department to prevent, disrupt and ultimately lead a global effort to defeat ISIS and its dozens of affiliates.
In August, Trump announced a “comprehensive Afghanistan strategy” steeped in conventional counterterrorism (CT) approaches. He emphasized a CT strategy including increased military aid and military training for Afghanistan, with the aim of enabling and encouraging Afghan military decision makers to carry out CT strategies against the Taliban and al Qaeda based on the conditions they face and not on a specific time limit. The overall goals of this strategy are to effectively eliminate all designated foreign terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to diplomatically neutralize Pakistan and Iran’s growing influence in Afghanistan.
Formulated to integrate “all instruments of power,” Trump’s Afghanistan strategy did not actually design or invent a new CT approach. Rather, it is the standard application of what most analysts refer to as DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military and Economic) efforts to combat insurgencies or terrorist organizations. An existing example of DIME is based at the U.S. State Department: The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, created by former President Barack Obama.
Originally called the Anti-ISIL Coalition and led by Gen. John Allen, the coalition comprises 73 countries led by the United States. The international group emphasizes the military destruction of ISIS, ending the flow of foreign fighters to join ISIS, preventing financial transactions that support ISIS, and supplying rapid humanitarian support to the regions ravaged by terrorism. In the same vein, the United States recently pledged up to $60 million to the G5 Sahel Joint Counterterrorism Forces, a collaborative effort between the United Nations and the African Union to fight terrorist threats in West Africa.
However, only prioritizing a military CT approach to deal with terrorism will not address violent extremism’s appeal to non-state actors as a means to resolve conflicts or create change.
In the past 15 years, CT policymakers and practitioners have recognized that one cannot and will not defeat terrorism with pure kinetic and military strategies. Trump’s CT policy based on military approaches using the “crushing retribution of American might and arms” could, in the short term, decrease the number of visible terrorist fighters on the Afghan-Pakistani border. But in the long run, the real test is to tackle the institutional power and sheer attractive presence of radical extremist movements and the mini-societies they construct for their fighters. Global and regional efforts to destroy terrorist organizations with military might will not eliminate the ideological, cultural, social, political and psychological remnants of their ideas.
To confront terrorism at its core, what is needed is a society-wide approach to addressing the drift toward extremist ideologies and the appeal of racial, religious and ethnic supremacy. Countering violent extremism (CVE) activities involve tackling radical ideologies by engaging a wide spectrum of stakeholders — namely law enforcement, researchers, educators, social service providers, civic activists, psychologists, faith leaders, public officials, business owners and thought leaders. By using locally produced CVE educational and training modules, the network of civil society CVE practitioners could identify ways to intervene, interject and generate awareness of radicalization recruitment efforts in communities.
Many U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Australia and Singapore, to name a few, have national CVE strategies in place to put a stop to radicalization activities with prevention and intervention programs. The National Counterterrorism Center based in Virginia monitors radical groups, shares information and analyzes extremist threats, but the United States still lacks a national CVE strategy that engages a wide network of civil society members to build resilient communities to prevent radicalization and recruitment.
With an “America First” foreign policy focused on producing “real reforms, real progress, and real results” with the United States’ investments, the United States is only complicating its struggle with violent extremism by neglecting CVE approaches and only emphasizing counterterrorism policies.
Qamar-ul Huda, Ph.D., is the Director of Security & Violent Extremism Program at the Center for Global Policy, and a former Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Department of State. He is the editor of the book “Crescent and Dove: Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam.” The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center for Global Policy. Originally published in The Hill.
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