The Legacy of 9/11 and the "War on Terror”

Crisis Group experts contribute their views on how the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent “war on terror” shaped the conflicts and crises they work on.

Shiite Huthi rebels man a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the city of Sanaa 15 November 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

In early 2014, I found myself in the sparsely furnished front room of a nondescript breezeblock villa in Aden, a city in southern Yemen that was once one of the busiest ports in the world. My host was a man who once fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and later helped what would become the local al-Qaeda franchise gain a foothold in Yemen.

He was recounting how, in 1993, a distant relative had arrived at his hideout in the mountains of Abyan, to Aden’s east. The visitor, a senior military official who like my host hailed from Abyan, had come from Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, with a message from President Ali Abdullah Saleh.…  Seguir leyendo »

U.S. Air Force ground crew secure weapons and other components of an MQ-9 Reaper drone after it returned from a mission, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, 9 March 2016. REUTERS/Josh Smith

What’s new? The U.S. government is conducting a formal review of its counter-terrorism direct action operations – ie, those that involve kill or capture. But it is not clear that the review will shed light on key questions about the effectiveness of militarised counter-terrorism efforts or recommend major changes.

Why does it matter? The so-called global war on terror deserves greater oversight. Since the 11 September 2001 attacks, the U.S. has waged war upon numerous jihadist groups in a dozen or more countries. Decisions to change the conflict’s scope are often taken unilaterally and in secret by the executive branch.

What should be done?…  Seguir leyendo »

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boards a plane at the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 20 February 2020. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS

Of the nineteen hijackers on the four planes that crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, all but two were from the Gulf states: fifteen from Saudi Arabia and two from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The attacks and their aftermath upset a status quo of smooth political, economic and security relations between the U.S. and its Gulf Arab partners. As the U.S. turned its overly ambitious gaze toward removing Saddam Hussein and advancing George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda”, it upended finely balanced regional dynamics, increased Gulf states’ sense of insecurity and spurred the slow erosion of their confidence in Washington’s steady support.…  Seguir leyendo »

A picture taken on 25 November 25 2017, shows the Rawda mosque, roughly 40 kilometres west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish, after a gun and bombing attack. STR / AFP

In the sweep of events following the 11 September 2001 attacks, the low-level, intermittent jihadist insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is understandably outside the spotlight. While posing a persistent threat to Egypt, Sinai militants have only occasionally attracted significant notice outside the country, usually following spectacular attacks on tourist or other civilian sites. To a degree, the scant attention is a function of isolation: the Egyptian state has made the northern Sinai, the primary theatre of violence, off limits to journalists and researchers.

Though lack of access has hindered understanding of Sinai events, Egypt’s experiences with Islamist militancy, the broad contours of which remain visible from a distance, can still offer insight into how the 9/11 attacks shaped U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Nigerian soldier patrols on the outskirts of the town of Damask in North East Nigeria on 25 April 2017. Florian PLAUCHEUR / AFP

Since mid-July, when the Taliban march toward the Afghan capital accelerated at an astonishing pace, the Somalia-based jihadist group Al-Shabaab’s media channels have covered little else. Not without reason. One of al-Qaeda’s wealthiest and most tenacious affiliates, Al-Shabaab doubtless hopes that it, too, can outwait the large international troop deployment that props up Somalia’s government and one day capture power throughout the country. Al-Shabaab’s enduring influence – it retains a capacity to levy taxes essentially unchallenged in as much as 80 per cent of the country – sums up a key lesson from two decades of the U.S.-led “war on terror” in Africa: the investment in military efforts to contain jihadism, in places where governments enjoy dismal levels of public credibility, and in situations where elites in distant capitals deliver few services to the people, has hardly helped row back the threat of jihadist militancy.…  Seguir leyendo »

A car burns outside the UN headquarters at the Canal Hotel after a huge suicide truck bomb explosion rocked the building. Baghdad, Iraq, September 2003. AFP PHOTO/Sabah ARAR

My friend Arthur telephoned me one summer morning in 2003, when I had just returned from Iraq, which had fallen into U.S. hands that April. Arthur was head of the refugee program at the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights. A decade earlier, he and I had travelled together to Iraq, Iran and Turkey to investigate the refugee crisis in the wake of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Now, he said, he wanted to go to Baghdad for meetings about addressing the new war’s human cost. He asked me if he should bring a bulletproof vest. We at Crisis Group had raised the alarm about an incipient insurgency in Iraq, based on my observations during two visits since the U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »