Editor’s Note: The armed drone has become the emblem of U.S. counterterrorism, but critics charge that it leads to high numbers of civilian casualties and a popular backlash in places like Pakistan. Asfandyar Mir, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, argues that the drone campaign has proven highly effective at degrading (though not ending) al-Qaeda and other groups in Pakistan. He lays out conditions under which a drone campaign would be effective elsewhere, noting the importance of intelligence and the need for a rapid-response capacity.
Latest in counterterrorism
The White House released the National Strategy for Counterterrorism on Oct. 4. It is the first such strategy to be released since the publication of the Obama administration’s strategy in 2011. The full document can be read below.
Editor’s Note: Perhaps the biggest counterterrorism challenge facing the Trump administration is whether or not to keep a robust military presence in Syria now that the Islamic State has been forced underground. Kim Cragin of the National Defense University argues that the killing of jihadist leaders and other operations in Syria are an important part of why the United States and Europe have experienced fewer attacks than expected and that leaving the region risks more successful terrorist attacks.
For more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, both the threat of terrorism and the ins-and-outs of U.S. counterterrorism policy dominated American national discourse. But not anymore. Concerns about terrorism and counterterrorism are still there to some degree, to be sure, but they’ve been elbowed aside as the primary focus of national debate and scrutiny. When did this happen, why, and does it matter?
Editor’s Note: One of the most common, and seemingly convincing, critiques of the drone program is that it produces "blowback"—each miss that kills civilians, or even each hit that kills a militant, angers locals near the blast zone and inflames national sentiment against the United States in ways that aid militant recruitment. Such arguments are difficult to evaluate, but Aqil Shah of the University of Oklahoma did extensive survey and interview research on this question.
Editor’s Note: Programs to counter (or, if you prefer, prevent) violent extremism are much talked about but rarely implemented. The Obama administration did some initial exploratory efforts, but even these small programs are on the chopping block in the Trump administration. Katerina Papatheodorou contends that this is a mistake: High levels of extremism make these programs necessary, and there are multiple models that offer lessons for the United States.
Editor’s Note: For years, Ethiopia has appeared to be a relative success story, emerging from years of conflict and becoming a somewhat democratic, pro-Western ally in East Africa. Yet this success is in jeopardy. Yale's Hilary Matfess details the creeping authoritarianism in Ethiopia and its dangers for the country and the United States.
Editor’s Note: Belgium has earned a bad name in counterterrorism circles, with critics charging that its security services did too little too late when it came to disrupting the Islamic State and other groups on Belgian soil. The tragic terrorist attack in Brussels two years ago, however, marked a turning point. Thomas Renard and Rik Coolsaet of Egmont detail the significant steps Belgium has taken in recent years to improve its counterterrorism capacity.
It has been almost seven years since unrest in Syria began and spiraled into a civil war that has killed perhaps 500,000 people and displaced millions more. The war and associated diplomacy offer much to chew on, but the counterterrorism implications are particularly striking—for Syria is both a counterterrorism success and a counterterrorism failure. The Islamic State, one of the most vicious and powerful terrorist groups the world has ever seen, emerged out of the conflict.
Editor’s Note: The armed drone is one of the most important counterterrorism instruments, and its use is both constant and controversial. The origins of this program, however, are not well known. Christopher Fuller, a historian at the University of Southampton, offers a brief history of the program and shows how it is interwoven with broader institutional changes in U.S. counterterrorism.