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.

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A Quick Look at the Hezbollah Terror Group

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Hezbollah was founded in 1989 by a group of Shiite religious leaders. The group was inspired in part by the teachings of Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 revolution in Iran. Hezbollah’s early leadership mobilized Lebanon’s Shiite population to resist Israel and began training hundreds of recruits in Eastern Lebanon.

Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990, but Hezbollah was permitted to keep its weapons. In 1985 Hezbollah issued a public manifesto of its ideology and stated one of its chief goals to be the end of Israel, the liberation of Jerusalem, and the formation of an Islamic state in Lebanon.

Since the end of the civil war, it has become an essential player in Lebanese politics, while depending on its ability to retain support among Lebanon’s Shiite community.

Recent Attacks

Hezbollah has orchestrated countless terrorist attacks since its formation, including the 1983 suicide bombing of the US Embassy (killing more than 300 US personnel), the 1992 attack of the Israeli embassy in Argentina (killing 29), the 1994 London Israeli Embassy attack (injuring 29), and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, killing 19 US citizens.

More recently, the 2006 Lebanon War was a 34-day military conflict in Lebanon and Northern Israel, which started when Hezbollah militants fired anti-tank missiles at two armored Humvees patrolling the Israeli side of the border fence. The attack killed three and injured two.

Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire on targets in Lebanon, an air and naval blockade, and a ground invasion of Southern Lebanon. The war continued until August 14th, 2006. By the end, Hezbollah had made thousands of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians living in towns in Northern Israel.

Threat Going Forward

Perhaps the most significant threat that Hezbollah poses to US interests lies in its relationship with Iran. Hez­bol­lah answers to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The country has played a vital role in building up Hezbollah’s military capabilities over the years, which enabled the group to fight the Israeli army to a standstill in 2006. I personally follow one of the leading experts on Iran Mark Dubowitz of FDD here. For Iran, Hezbollah’s military strength serves as an essential deterrent to any potential US or Israeli plan to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. If they strike Iran, then Iran could rely on Hezbollah to attack northern Israel.

This threat is more dangerous now than ever before, given the strained relationship between the US and Iran. On May 12th, President Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Iranian nuclear agreement and reinstituting sanctions. Mark Dubowitz from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies recently spoke more in-depth about the criticisms of the deal. Check out Mark Dubowitz’s website here for more information.