Introduction to War on Terrorism
Introduction to War on Terrorism
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the United States was the target of organized terrorist attacks. Hijackers seized control of four passenger jets and deliberately crashed them into high-profile targets: the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York city and the Pentagon building outside of Washington, D.C. The fourth airplane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers aboard overwhelmed the hijackers. These were the most deadly enemy attacks on American home soil in U.S. history.
The War on Terrorism, launched in direct retaliation for these attacks, is a blanket term for American military and security efforts aimed at neutralizing ongoing or potential terrorist plots against the United States and its allies. The war has grown to encompass actions both large and small across the globe.
The nature of the War on Terrorism constitutes a radical departure from previous American conflicts. In stark contrast to America’s previous wars, there is no readily identifiable enemy army or national government to strike against; the enemy soldiers wear no uniforms, and it remains unclear as to whether they even constitute enemy combatants in the legal sense.
The stated war goals of the United States, as outlined in President George W. Bush’s address to Congress of September 20, 2001, are to build an international coalition of allies to fight terrorists, to destroy the global terrorist infrastructure, and to wage war against any nation that harbors or supports terrorists.
The latter goal led to the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. The Taliban, the militant Islamist government of that country, had formed close ties with the al-Qaeda terrorist network and its leader, Osama bin Laden, scion of a wealthy Saudi family and purported mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
The invasion of Afghanistan met with great success. By employing a combination of conventional, large-scale military operations with the efforts of elite Special Forces units, often working closely with local allies, the Americans were able to decisively rout the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, chasing the shattered remnants into the rugged hills along the Pakistani border.
Although al-Qaeda’s power base had been broken, the organization itself lived on, as did bin Laden himself. The flexible nature of the outfit, which operated in independent cells of four or five operatives each, scattered across the globe, allowed attacks to continue, as subsequent bombings in Bali, London, and Madrid proved.
The second major phase of the War on Terrorism opened in March 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. In contrast to the Afghan war, this action was met with significant international resistance. The United States asserted that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction at his disposal, which he would likely use against his neighbors and abroad. U.S. officials also implied Saddam was linked to al-Qaeda. Evidence of these links was shaky, however.
Four years after the initial invasion of Iraq, no conclusive link between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda had been produced, nor have any weapons of mass destruction been found. The American public, initially supportive of the war, has grown increasingly weary of what many perceive to be a counter-productive quagmire that only serves to radicalize a new generation of terrorists.