Fifteen years of the war on terror

An Iraqi soldier stands next to weapons and ammunition that were collected after allied forces retook the city of Fallujah from Islamic State, on September 4 in Fallujah.  

On September 11, 2001, the U.S. saw the biggest attack on its homeland ever. The al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden launched coordinated attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. 2,753 people lost their lives that day, including those on a commercial aircraft that was forced to crash in rural Pennsylvania.

The attacks gave birth to the U.S.’ war on terror, which initially focused on the al-Qaeda, and the Taliban that had sheltered bin laden in Afghanistan. It has evolved into a long-drawn-out conflict with multiple battlefields, many allies and myriad enemies. Fifteen years later, its initial enemies are but shadows of themselves. However, new enemies such as the Islamic State (IS) were spawned. The 15 years also saw the rise of the home-grown terrorist, the biggest worry for security establishments. It has been exacerbated by technology, which has helped terror organisations break down physical barriers such as borders by taking their ideology online.

The 9/11 attack, the jihadi ideology behind it and the wars that ensued also altered the political climate in many countries, leading to revolutions and coups. It also put millions adrift, creating a refugee population that the world has probably never seen before.

Here we attempt to chart this evolution of terrorism and the war on it over the last 15 years, recounting the key incidents that drove it.

1. October, 2001-present, Afghanistan

The U.S.-led invasion successfully forced the al-Qaeda leadership to flee to Pakistan. It also ousted Taliban from power. However, the battle is far from over. The U.S trained Afghan forces are in a tug of war with the Taliban, each claiming and reclaiming territory.

Since the international combat troops pulled out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014, leaving behind only a largely training and advising contingent, insurgency had intensified.

Akhtar Mansour, who took over command of the Taliban after its founder Mullah Omar’s death was announced in July 2015, was killed during a U.S. drone strike in May.

Last month, President Barack Obama said that the >U.S. had decided to keep a large number of American troops in Afghanistan wipe out the IS in the country.

2. Oct 2002, Indonesia

Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda affiliate, killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, in a bomb attack in Bali. The episode of violence, on a scale of unprecedented proportions in South-East Asia since the 9/11 attack, firmly turned the spotlight on Indonesia. Prior to the attack, there were domestic rumblings over its decision to extend a general but firm support to the U.S. in its "global campaign'' against terrorism.

Police officers and emergency workers gather around the ruins of a nightclub in Denpasar, Bali. Photo: AP

3. March, 2003-present, Iraq

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. The then President, George Bush, said that t >he military invasion was to bring that country, suffering from brutal dictatorship, to democratic governance. Moreover, the United States took upon itself the task to wipe out weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had allegedly kept in his possession, which later turned out to be smoke with no fire.

The invasion led to a quagmire as the country descended into sectarian strife. >President Barack Obama pulled out the U.S. troops, leaving the country in the hands of a shaky government and nascent military. The period of the U.S.-led invasion also saw the rise of Al Qaeda-backed extremists. It also created the governance and security vacuum that was filled by the violent Islamic State, which announced a caliphate in northern Iraq and Syria. In 2014, the IS seized control of Fallujah and Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city. The Iraqi forces are slowly gaining ground but the country is a shell of its former self, contsntly facing suicide attacks and car bombings.

4. March 2004, Spain

Madrid train bombings by an al-Qaeda cell killed 192 people and injured around 2,000. One of Morocco's leading anti-terrorist experts, Mohamed Darif, told the Guardian that he believed two groups were involved in the attacks: one based in Morocco and one founded by Al-Qaeda's reputed head of operations in Spain, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, a Syrian also known as Abu Dahdah.

21. June 12, 2016, U.S.:

In the worst mass shooting incident in the U.S., at least 50 people were killed and 53 injured by a gunman at a night club in Orlando, Florida. The shooter, Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan origin, was killed in the police operation that followed.

The 29-year-old may have been a radicalised Islamist and the investigation will probe that angle too, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mateen apparently went on Facebook to measure the shockwaves his attackwas generating. According to news agency Associated Press, Mateen made a series of Facebook posts and searches before and during the attack. “America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state,” Mateen allegedly posted on Facebook.

22. July 14, 2016, France:

An attacker killed up to 80 people and injured scores after he drove a heavy truck at high speed into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice. The attack, which came eight months and a day after IS gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in Paris, appeared to be a work of a lone assailant.

The driver, identified as a French national of Tunisian origin, was shot dead by the police.

The incident brought the focus back on ‘lone wolf’ attacks. The first is the tactical question of how to deal with the “lone wolf”, the solitary potential terrorist motivated by everything from bigotry and mental illness to a genuine belief in the ultra-violent, nihilistic philosophy of the IS.

A forensic officer stands near a van with its windscreen riddled with bullets. Photo: AP

The Hindu editorial, France in the crosshairs of terror, said “two broad lines of analysis” are needed.

“The first is the tactical question of how to deal with the “lone wolf”, the solitary potential terrorist motivated by everything from bigotry and mental illness to a genuine belief in the ultra-violent, nihilistic philosophy of the IS. Lone wolves are committed to carrying out suicide missions and taking as many innocent lives as possible, sometimes drawing direct inspiration from the words of IS leaders. A case in point here is of IS spokesman Muhammad al-Adnani who has called upon the faithful to ‘run over [American and French disbelievers] with your car’. How can they be stopped in any part of the world?...Secondly, a question that countries such as France must ask themselves is a strategic one. For instance, how could the French leadership do more to re-examine the roots of the social alienation and economic misery that engulf so many among its almost five million Muslims and leave them vulnerable to radicalisation? Such introspection could potentially reset deep-seated ethno-religious dissonance and, over the longer term, take the edge off the recruitment drives of extremists lurking in the shadows of Syria, Iraq, and the Internet.”

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 10:36:14 PM |

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