The 911 incident changed the world completely. It made terrorism the talk of the street. It was this incident after which ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’ began to be used as examples to explain the words like ‘extremism’ and ‘fundamentalism’. As the world entered the 21st century, terrorism had mutated into a monster already. Although the ‘hot pursuit’ of terrorists by the United States after 911 initially made people think that the world would become safer now from terrorist threats but the time has proved that this ‘war on terror’ has only expanded terrorism further. If we look closely at the major terrorist attacks of the second decade of this century, it is quite clear that this threat has now taken the world over. Whether it is al-Qaeda or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), fact is that the world peace has been held hostage by these organisations. Though we see outright condemnation by US today of terrorism, we must not forget some of the most shortsighted actions the country took in the past due to which the world turned into a giant target of terrorists.
The steps taken by United States that opened new ways for terrorism across the globe.
Training of fundamentalist groups:
Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda were the top targets on the list of anti-terror organisations after 911 but if we look at the history of Taliban and Osama, we’d realise that these organisations exist today mainly because of US backing that they once received.
When the former Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan in 1979, there was complete chaos in Afghanistan. Soviet Union stayed in Afghanistan till 1989. During those ten years, America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was allowed to do anything that they deemed fit in order to overthrow the Soviet’s puppet regime. From 1985 to 1992, CIA trained 12,500 Afghans in guerrilla warfare.
These camps were then taken over by Islamic extremists. A former American soldier said in this regard: It’s strange that we encouraged them, trained them and then they turned against us. This is extremely strange and threatening”.
Publishing and distribution of fundamentalist books:
Fundamentalist literature was published in the US at the time in order to overthrow Soviet regime and arouse the feelings of revolt in Afghans’ hearts. These books also contained extremist material such as images of weapons, bombs and guns. Children were given grenades to teach them counting.
These books later became part of Afghan syllabi. In 1994, United States banned the supply of these books but they continued to be published inside Afghanistan. Finally in 1996, the youngsters who had grown up learning these books took over Afghanistan.
Soon, efforts were launched to remove this violence from the textbooks but it was now impossible to bring these terrorists and extremists back to light.
CIA’s funding of Taliban:
Al-Qaeda needed funds just one year ahead of Osama’s death. They started kidnapping senior officials for ransom. Generally, they demanded millions of rupees, which were impossible for the people to raise. Every month, CIA officials would bring in hundreds of millions of rupees to Afghanistan’s presidential palace. Thus, the then Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai began to be called as Money Transfer machines. Soon this turned into a political fund.
This cash was sent to the Afghan government to win over the tribal leaders and it actually ended up in terrorists’ pockets. Although CIA was in this way funding its own enemies, this financial aid continued till Hamid Karzai was the president.
American weapons in ISIS’s control:
In 2014, Syrian city of Kobani, which is called Ayn ul-Arab these days, was in ISIS’s control. US was supplying the Kurds with arms through airplanes but this supply was somehow intersected by ISIS. Similarly, the less trained US troops in Iraq also sometimes laid down arms before the enemy while protecting their areas and handed their weapons over to ISIS. For example, ISIS stole seven tanks from a US base in Anbaar.
When in 2014, ISIS took control of Mosul, the second largest city of Iraq, they also captured 2300 cars, used in wars, that were imported from US. Two-thirds of these cars were later used in suicide attacks.
Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for decades as a dictator. When he died in 2012, a long era of tyranny also ended along with him. It is said about Gaddafi that despite being a tyrant, he had helped eradicate terrorism as well. But the reports that surfaced after his death prove that Gaddafi was one of the few Middle East rulers who remained immune to al-Qaeda.
After Gaddafi’s death, Libya descended into chaos. Fundamentalist groups started popping up throughout the country and the way was paved for terrorism. In 2012, on the anniversary of 911, US consulate in Benghazi was attacked by terrorists and four US citizens were killed. This was the beginning of ISIS in Libya.
According to former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, the agency didn’t want Libya to fall into ISIS’s hands. President Obama admitted earlier this year that Libya assault was his biggest mistake as US’s president.
Support for Syrian rebels:
Syrian war is a proxy war of opposite sides for meeting their own ends. ISIS wants to bring down the dictator Assad while the other rebels want to get rid of them both. In 2013, American CIA announced a program for rebels’ support. But initially this program remained stuck in details as the CIA was afraid of these arms landing into terrorists’ possession. After some time, the support for Syrian rebels was stopped. As a result, some of the CIA-backed groups stopped fighting while some of them severed their links with the CIA and aligned themselves with the Islamists. The program was restarted after some time.
In 2015, it was proven that the CIA-backed groups had fought side-by-side with Jaysh al-Nasr in Southern Syrian city of Daraa. It is debatable whether the CIA-backed groups paved for terrorists by helping them or joined hands with them purely out of pragmatism but the intelligence agencies are convinced that the extremist groups in Syria were actually getting strengthened by the CIA-backed groups.
Focus on ISIS:
In the recent years, most of the resources in the war on terror have been focused on ISIS. As the entire focus is on ISIS, the other terrorist groups are fast gaining strength. Al-Qaeda gradually dismembered after the death of Osama bin Laden but the rise of ISIS has also allowed al-Qaeda to regroup, especially in Syria where it is represented mainly by Jabhat al-Nusra.
An-Nusra is fighting the CIA-backed army, without any discrimination against either the ISIS or the rebels. Although al-Nusra is believed to be as ferocious as ISIS, it is generally considered a lesser evil in the region, and in Yemen. The organisation had lost control of Yemen’s trade centre Aden in 2012.
Al-Qaeda tried to prove itself as a moderate force in Iraq and Syria. But after the large scale airstrikes against ISIS, it is alarming that al-Qaeda might now exploit this situation to regain its lost power and authority.
Yemen is considered one of those Islamic countries that tried to cooperate with the West, especially in the war against terror. However, the country turned into an American enemy in the recent years. And the biggest single reason was the drone strikes.
Drones have become an effective war tool for the US but they have also turned the locals against them. While former US President George W Bush had started the drone war, Obama expanded it to new horizons. The problem with drones is that they not only target the terrorists but also the local community around him. According to one estimate, 90% of the drone victims were innocent. Such incidents are exploited by the terrorist organisations and they urge people to avenge their dead. It is then only natural that those victims would join these terrorists to fight those who killed their loved ones. Despite all these statistics, Pentagon plans to increase drone strike up to 50% by 2019.
Release of Guantanamo Bay prisoners:
Guantanamo Bay is the place where suspected terrorists are kept. This prison was built in the beginning of the war on terror in an American naval base on Cuban territory. Obama had promised to close this prison down and in 2016, 144 prisoners were released. Bush had also freed 532 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay during his presidency. According to Pentagon reports, some of the former prisoners were again involved in terrorism.
Evidence of the involvement of 111 prisoners out of the 532 released by Bush in terrorism was also found. Some of the released terrorists joined Harkat Sham al-Islam later.