US Counter-terrorism Strategies

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The administration’s counter-terrorism strategy doesn’t stop with ISIS. Earlier this year the military dealt a severe blow to al Qaeda and the Taliban when it was confirmed that a U.S. airstrike killed al Qaeda leader Hazrat Abbas in the Afghan province of Nangarhar. Abbas served as a senior commander for al Qaeda and the movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. His forces were responsible for numerous attacks and kidnappings on both sides of the border.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) explained why Abbas’ death is such a heavy blow to al Qaeda. Read about the CEO of FDD, Mark Dubowitz.

Abbas is what the US military refers to as a “dual-hatted” jihadist commander. The NATO Resolute Support identified connections between al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of other terror organizations operating in the region. NATO command concluded that Abbas’ integration of multiple organizations highlights the relationships between terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

Beyond the battlefield, the principal counter-terrorism office at the U.S. Treasury Department, The Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) received $141.8 million in the budget bill signed by President Trump. In addition to counter-terrorism, the budget increase will help the TFI with its operations to oversee U.S. sanctions programs such as those implemented against Iran and North Korea. TFI’s role will become more important than ever now that the Iran Nuclear deal has ended with sanctions reinstated. For more, read Mark Dubowitz’s opinion on the failed deal and how it will affect national security going forward.

This past January the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined the Trump administration’s counter-terrorism strategy going forward in Syria in the form of five steps to prevent the return of ISIS: Stabilization initiatives; de-escalating the conflict; counter-terrorism efforts with allies; a political transition in accordance to the U.N. framework; and reducing malicious Iranian influence.

He framed the objectives in the broader context of U.S. counter-terrorism policy, and also described three principal factors that characterize the Syrian situation today: ISIS is not entirely defeated; the Assad led government controls around half of Syria’s territory; and strategic threats to the U.S. do not just come from ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Sunni Salafist terrorist groups.

These policies meant stepping up U.S. diplomatic engagement in the Syrian conflict while maintaining a military presence that is focused on preventing ISIS from rebuilding. One goal of this effort is to create the necessary conditions for a political transition away from Bashar al-Assad, and the return of Syrian refugees. Without Assad in power, Iran’s influence will diminish.

The new plan combines many essential lessons learned from past mistakes and attempts to find a middle-ground approach to foreign policy. Secretary Tillerson carefully explained why, “it is crucial to our national defense to maintain a military and diplomatic presence in Syria, to help bring an end to that conflict, and assist the Syrian people as they chart a course to achieve a new political future.”

Since those remarks President Trump has moved quickly against the Islamic State, directing the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop an aggressive plan to defeat the group. Backed by American-led air power, the allied militias have cleared Islamic State fighters near the Iraqi-Syrian border. American warplanes bombed Islamic State bunkers, killed high-level operatives, destroyed significant combat infrastructure as well as disrupted supply routes.