Should we change our anti-terror strategies?
When targeted by drones, terrorism will get stronger no matter where it is in the world
On the outskirts of Jisr al-Shughur in the western countryside of Syria’s Idlib, an unmanned drone targeted Ahmad Salama Mabruk Abdul Razek, known as “Abu Faraj al-Masri,” leader of “Fath al-Sham” organization. This operation reminds us of similar ones which targeted leaders of terrorist organizations. Does it represent a triumphant success in the war or a strategic setback for countries fighting terrorism, taking slow-paced strategies in order to change the situation on the ground?
Targeting leaders with unmanned drones from time to time will not necessarily weaken the organization. One simply has to recall al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the two organizations that were targeted the most by drones; they certainly suffered from heavy losses but they have remained active up until this day.
General Stanley McChrystal, who was in charge of the assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2008, was quoted poking fun of a number of government officials, including Vice President Joe Biden. What was more dangerous was when he accused them of defeatism in the war on terrorism. The whole saga sent rumors swirling that President Obama called for his resignation.
Two decades ago, the main conflict in the American rhetoric was between two strategies:
The first is the Quinn strategy, demanding more money to fight terrorist groups, more equipment, troops and money in the battlefield; it is more effective but its time limit cannot be determined and countries would drown in a long war.
The second is the CT-Plus strategy that focuses on security in order to eradicate the heads of the rebels and prominent al-Qaeda members. The main idea behind this strategy is to identify the leaders’ locations through intelligence and then perform the operation with unmanned drones, However, those who criticize this strategy believe that it is ineffective at separating terrorist factions from society, as it will be targeting specific identified leaders but does not eradicate the basic root to isolate the organization on the geographical and social levels. Therefore, the Quinn strategy seems to be more efficient in the war on terrorism. The US has relied on the Quinn strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq in a specified phase, while the CT-Plus is based on the premise of hit and run.
Targeting leaders with unmanned drones from time to time will not necessarily weaken the organizationFahad Suleiman Shoqiran
There are many studies related to the war on terrorism undertaken through unmanned drones. The US has used these drones in more than eight countries within the Middle East and Africa; it targeted Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali and the Gaza Strip. Political analyst William Pfaff believes that the US orchestrated an excessive number of operations using drones, namely in Yemen and Iraq and this may be due to the US focusing on the strategy more than the security and accuracy. However, it is not a decisive means in the fierce battles that require a presence on the battlefield to dismantle, fight or resist the organization.
The excessive reliance on drones has made the armed groups feel that the war against them was not serious enough, since they can still control the land, expand recruitment and control areas of social influence without any international measures.
In contrast, the unmanned drones have generated partial sympathy by the communities affiliated to al-Qaeda. For example, Brian Glyn Williams says these drones are often described by villagers as wasps because they sting, or like detonators because they strike without warning. Al-Qaeda is always trying to involve the community in the war on other nations and according to a letter by Osama bin Laden that was published in a documentary, he warned about forcing Yemenis to join the organization as he wanted them to join willingly. Tight bonding was established between the organization and communal groups in areas such as Abyan due to the excessive number of operations led by drones.
I have already written two pieces about unmanned drones, one of which tackled the moral issue and the other was about the security question. Here I am now, talking about the two famous strategies.
It is certain to me that the social environment will breed terrorism if only drones are used, without resorting to different plans suited to the target organization’s on-the-ground presence.
For example, when an American man of Pakistani origins named Faisal Shah was arrested after detonating a car bomb in Times Square in New York in 2010, he said that his goal was to kill as many Americans as possible because the US was sending their drones to kill dozens of women and children. This story shows how terrorist groups are exploiting the people’s trauma in order to get them involved, making it difficult on the long run for any security measure to be taken to disengage the community from the organization. This is why new methods should be applied, because traditional cowardly tactics are not working in the war on terrorism.
When targeted by drones, terrorism will get stronger no matter where it is in the world and terrorists will feel increasingly more secure.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on October 6, 2016.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.