Solutions to Violent Conflict

Archive for the ‘Counterterrorism’ Category

De-Ba`thification and the Rise of ISIS

In Counterterrorism, Middle East, Religion and Conflict on November 24, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Aysegul Keskin Zeren

As the war against ISIS unfolds, acknowledging the conditions and events that paved the way for ISIS is crucial for rethinking strategy. As a result of a decade of instability in Iraq and more than three years of civil war in Syria, ISIS had fertile grounds and a strong support base to gain power in a wide stretch of territory in the regions. The ability of ISIS to gain significant popular support in Iraq particularly reveals how the policy of de-Ba`thification aided the rise of this extremist group.


The official de-Ba`thification process was initiated by the first two orders of the Coalition Provisional Authority in April 2003. The targets of these orders were high-level Ba`th party officials, Ba`thist leadership in public institutions, and entities that symbolized the Saddam Hussein era such as the Iraqi Army. Read the rest of this entry »

The Role of Diplomacy in Countering ISIS

In Counterterrorism, Middle East, Religion and Conflict on November 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Massive influx of Syrian Kurdish refugees into Turkey, September 22, 2014. Photo: EC/ECHO (Flickr)

David Cortright

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a clear and present danger to international security that must be stopped. The question is how. President Obama said there are no military solutions to this crisis, but he has sent American soldiers back to Iraq and launched air strikes there and in Syria. Recently, he ordered a doubling of U.S. troop levels in Iraq to 3,100. What’s missing so far from the U.S. response is a coherent plan for using diplomacy and political measures to weaken ISIS and halt the spread of violence in the region. Read the rest of this entry »

The ISIS Stalemate: It’s the Long Game

In Counterterrorism, Middle East, Religion and Conflict on November 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Ebrahim Moosa

With another U.S. aid worker beheaded by ISIS and unreported civilian deaths caused by U.S. airstrikes in ISIS controlled territories in Iraq and Syria, the conflict is taking on the features of a military stalemate.

As long as ISIS is America’s problem, there are no good medium and long-term solutions to the “caliphate” of Abubakr al-Baghdadi. Even assassinating Baghdadi would not solve the problem of the menace of ISIS, just as the execution of Osama bin Laden did not put an end to al-Qaeda. In fact, ISIS is a version of al-Qaeda on steroids.


More revealing about the civil war in Syria and Iraq is the account of Theo Padnos, the American journalist who was released by the Nusra Front after two years of captivity. The real battle in Syria, according to Padnos, is between the Nusra Front and ISIS. The two groups detest each other yet they share a common enemy in the Assad regime. Read the rest of this entry »

A Conference to Assess Drone Warfare

In Counterterrorism, Drones on March 28, 2013 at 10:51 am
Drone Conference pp

Gen. Michael V. Hayden (USAF, ret.), former director of the CIA (standing), with Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur (left), and David Cortright (right), director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute.

Chicago — The Kroc Institute recently assembled some of the world’s leading experts on counterterrorism strategy, ethics and the use of force, international law and civil and human rights for a conference (March 19-21) on “The Ethical, Strategic and Legal Implications of Drone Warfare.”

The conference began with remarks by Gen. Michael Hayden (U.S. Air Force ret.), former director of the CIA. Hayden presented the military case for drone strikes, arguing that they are legal under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and effective as a means of eliminating targeted Al Qaeda leaders. Drones nonetheless have produced blowback effects, he said, and have strained alliance relationships with some countries.

Read the rest of this entry »

Counterterrorism Strategy & Drone Warfare

In Counterterrorism, Drones on March 28, 2013 at 10:51 am

The Obama administration claims that drone strikes are directed at known leaders of Al Qaeda. The majority of those killed in these attacks, however, are insurgents from the Taliban and other locally based militant movements.

At the drone warfare conference, Peter Bergen (New America Foundation) observed that the drone program has evolved into a counterinsurgency air platform. He reported that only 8 percent of those targeted since 2009 have been directly affiliated with Al Qaeda. So-called ‘signatures strikes’ are not directed against designated Al Qaeda leaders but rather target unidentified potential militants in certain locations.

Chris Woods (Bureau of Investigative Journalism) echoed the concerns of Christof Heyns (UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions) about so-called double-tap strikes that target first responders and the funerals of the victims of prior attacks. These policies increase the risk of civilian casualties and inflame local hatreds and animosity toward the U.S. Read the rest of this entry »

“Advances” in High-Tech Killing

In Counterterrorism, War on December 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Mary Ellen O’Connell

In the wake of 9/11 the United States adopted a new approach to countering terrorism, an approach made possible by two developments: adding missiles and bombs to unmanned drones and asserting the legal right to use these weapons outside combat zones.

Prior to 9/11, the United States had used unmanned aerial vehicles only for reconnaissance. Hellfire missiles were then attached to drones and deployed to kill people in Afghanistan and beyond. In 2002, the CIA used a drone to kill six men in a vehicle in Yemen, a country not connected with 9/11. One was a 23-year old American. The intended target was Abu Ali Al Harithi, wanted for the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Until his killing, the FBI had been in charge of his case. FBI agents, in cooperation Yemeni authorities, were having success at solving the case. The United States did not explain why the decision was made to kill the suspect or why the CIA was allowed to carry out killings even though it had been banned from that role following Vietnam and the dirty wars of the 1980s. Read the rest of this entry »

New Wars, Old Strategies

In Counterterrorism, War on December 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm
Counter Terrorism training in Yemen. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo (Flickr)

Counterterrorism training in Yemen. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo (Flickr)

David Cortright

The nature of armed conflict has changed dramatically in recent decades. Gone is the old paradigm of industrial interstate war. Instead, conflicts have risen sharply within and beyond states.

In the world today there are 37 armed conflicts (as measured by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program), all of them involving communities divided by ethnicity, language, and/or religion. Most are relatively small (fewer than 1,000 casualties per year), but many are persistent and have continued for years at varying degrees of intensity. Read the rest of this entry »

Will the U.S. Remain Global Top Dog?

In Counterterrorism, War on December 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Andrew J. Bacevich

When it comes to America’s role in the world, the 2012 presidential campaign was notable chiefly for what was left unsaid. Other than uttering platitudes or striking postures aimed at particular domestic constituencies, neither candidate had much to offer. Yet the absence of substantive attention given to foreign policy speaks volumes about the present-day condition of American statecraft.


Could we have done better? Yes. Here’s the sixty-four dollar question that a presidential campaign worthy of the name ought to have addressed:  Is the United States committed to remaining global Top Dog? Or are we willing to accept a diminished status of being one Big Dog (perhaps the biggest) among several?

Phrased somewhat more delicately:  Should the United States attempt to sustain its position of global primacy, achieved as a direct result of World War II and seemingly affirmed by the outcome of the Cold War? Will conditions permit it? Does it serve U.S. interests even to make the effort? Read the rest of this entry »

Al-Shabaab: Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

In Counterterrorism, Somalia on January 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Ryne Clos

The United States has adopted a static and stark picture of al-Shabaab that has magnified the truly dangerous aspects of the organization and alienated dimensions of the movement that could contribute to a solution to Somalia’s problems.

Al-Shabaab is an armed social organization and movement that has expertly framed the Somali conflagration in such a way as to maximize its mobilization efforts. It depicts itself as primarily a youth movement, having started its recruitment as a nascent court militia in 2004 among Mogadishu’s orphans and abandoned children. In fact, the name al-Shabaab means “youth.” The youth are a new voice, with a different message and set of experiences than the traditional government elites, and they are more willing to accept al-Shabaab’s anti-clan ideology. Read the rest of this entry »

From Isolation to Engagement: Strategies for Countering Violent Extremism

In Counterterrorism, Somalia on January 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Hundreds of people fleeing drought, famine and civil war in Somalia wait in line to register at Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. According to the U.N., 3.7 million Somalis are in crisis. (Photo: Internews Network/Flickr)

John Paul Lederach

The U.S. government’s list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” is a central part of a counter-terrorism strategy based on the isolation of individuals and groups who espouse violence defined as terrorism. This strategy makes it illegal to provide material support to those individuals and groups, which increasingly is interpreted to prohibit any contact or consultation with groups on the list. Read the rest of this entry »