The United States has long built its approach to counterterrorism based on a fundamental distinction between “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism.” The phrases were always misnomers to some degree, but the recent mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has revealed just how unsuitable that distinction is for today’s terrorist threats.
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The Jan. 29 Senate testimony by intelligence community leaders highlighted a number of crisis areas that were of little surprise to most followers of the news: U.S. troops and advisers are engaged around the globe working with allies and others to address critical issues in Syria and Iraq, and managing threats from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and elsewhere.
On Wednesday, President Trump issued an executive order revoking an Obama administration order that created reporting requirements for U.S. counterterrorism strikes. Read the full order below.
Executive Order on Revocation of Reporting Requirement
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:
In the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the Department of Defense announced a shift away from counterterrorism operations around the world to focus on major state power competition.
On the morning of Jan. 6, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced that it had captured five Islamic State foreign fighters in Syria, including two reported U.S. citizens. The SDF identified the American captives as Zaid Abed al-Hamid, a 35-year-old from an undisclosed location in the U.S, and Warren Christopher Clark, a 34-year-old from Houston, Tex. If Clark’s capture is verified, it adds another chapter to years-long efforts to investigate into American Islamic State members.
2018 represented a sharp departure from previous years in terms of the sheer number of jihadist attacks in the West. Though attacks in Western Europe and North America were on a steady rise prior to this year, in 2018 they plunged, and jihadist attacks in the West in 2018 were fairly unsophisticated and significantly less lethal.
Editor’s Note: For the U.S. government, terrorism is a foreign-linked danger, not a domestic one. Groups that foment violence at home are criminal and investigated as such, but a terrorism label is not used. Jason Blazakis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey who for many years ran the office at the State Department in charge of terrorist designations, argues that we need to change. He proposes a structure for designating domestic terrorist groups and otherwise putting them on par with their foreign counterparts.
For counterterrorism officials, one of the most difficult counterterrorism challenges is identifying the next global struggle that, like the Syrian civil war, will energize the world’s Muslims and lead tens of thousands of foreigners to join the fray.
The power balance in Washington has shifted at least a little now that the Democrats have won the House. In addition to being able to pass legislation and shape the budget, Democrats now have the power to investigate, conduct hearings, and otherwise hold the executive branch accountable for the first time since the Senate flipped in 2014—and then, of course, a Democrat was in the White House.
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.