Social Sciences - Hot Topics - War Against Terrorism
On September 11th 2001 members of the extreme Islamist group al-Qaida carried out a series of suicide attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC, killing 3000 innocent people.
The United States Government, under the leadership of President George W. Bush decided that such a large-scale attack constituted an act of war and declared that the main foreign-policy initiative of the Bush administration would be a War against Terrorism. Specifically this meant a war against not only terrorist groups, but also against those countries designated as state sponsors of terror.
al-Qa'ida(the base) had been formed around 1988 under the direction of Osama bin Laden. Between 1991-96 they operated out of the Sudan, after which they moved to Afghanistan, operating under the protection of the Taliban. In 1998 Bin Laden and his ally Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a fatwa which essentially sanctioned the killing of Americans and their allies, whether military or civilian.
In the winter of 2001, following the suicide attacks on New York and Washington DC, Afghan Northern Alliance, US and UK forces undertook military action in Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban and attempted to destroy the al-Qaida network.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
The greatest fear of the Western democratic states is that an individual or group might carry out a terrorist attack on a major population centre using weapons of mass destruction (Nuclear, Biological or Chemical). It is considered highly unlikely that any terrorist or terrorist group could develop the ability to do this without the assistance of a state. Therefore, one aim of the War against Terrorism is to break any link between terrorists and potential state sponsors.
This thinking influenced the decision by the US, UK and Coalition forces to invade Iraq in the Spring of 2003. Saddam Hussein's regime was quickly overthrown and the country occupied, but no weapons of mass destruction have been discovered.
Madrid and London
In March 2004 Madrid was the target of suicide attacks in which 191 people were killed. The following year, in July 2005 a series of explosions in London killed 52 civilians. Both atrocities involved suicide attacks and both were carried out by self-styled extremist islamist groups, however there is no evidence of any direct organisational or logistical connection to al-Qa'ida in either case.
In a refinement of President Bush's 2002 'axis of evil' speech', in January 2005 Condoleeza Rice, the US Secretary of State, identified six states as 'outposts of tyranny.' They are: Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Burma and Cuba.
In 2006 a political crisis began to develop between the USA and Iran under President Ahmadinejad's leadership in relation to the exact extent of Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Recently a combination of the results of the 2006 US mid-term elections, Tony Blair's replacement as Prime Minister by Gordon Brown (in June 2007) and the continuing public unease about events in Iraq have conspired to undermine the political authority of the chief architects of 'The War on Terror'. President Obama is currently committed to continuing to fight in Afghanistan and the UK government has troops there. However there is much discussion about troop withdrawal and strategy in Afghanistan and this has been set for 2014. There is also international unease about activity in Yemen and there have been bomb incidents in Sweden (2010) and attempts to blow up airplanes and buildings elsewhere. Somalia ,the horn of Africa and Nigeria have also recently become areas of terrorism with links to Islamic fundamentalism.
In May 2011 Osama Bin Laden was killed by US troops in a raid on his hideout in Pakistan. There followed some controversy about whether the Pakistani government knew of his whereabouts for a long time before the raid.
The War against Terrorism is ongoing and open-ended. Analysts believe that it will be with us for years, possibly decades and will involve a combination of police actions, political pressure and occasional military action. Further terrorist attacks on the West and Western interests are assumed as inevitable.
BBC News in Depth
Council on Foreign Relations
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